Federal Law Ordering US Attorney General To Gather Data On Police Excessive Force Has Been Ignored For 20 Years

from the another-optional-law dept

Are police officers getting worse or is this apparent increase in excessive force nothing more than a reflection of the increase in unofficial documentation (read: cameras) and public scrutiny? What we do know is that as crime has gone down, police forces have escalated their acquisitions of military gear and weapons. With options for lethal and less-lethal force continually expanding, it seems that deployment of force in excess of what the situation requires has become the new normal, but it’s tough to find hard data that backs up these impressions.

One of the reasons we don’t have data on police use of excessive force is because compiling this information relies on law enforcement agencies being forthcoming about these incidents. Generally speaking, it takes FOIA requests and lawsuits to obtain any data gathered by individual police departments. This shouldn’t be the case. In fact, as AllGov reports, this lack of data violates a federal law.

In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Among its provisions was the order that “the Attorney General shall, through appropriate means, acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.” The Justice Department was also required to publish an annual report on the data collected.

And…that’s pretty much the last anyone heard of that. The work of collecting the data was shuffled off to the International Association for Chiefs of Police, which made a few efforts at collecting data and put together a report in 2001, but has produced nothing since.

Unsurprisingly, law enforcement agencies don’t want to talk about it, and the entity in charge of compiling the data seems entirely uninterested in doing the job. Even if the data was collected as the statute requires, much of it would still be questionable. For one, it relies on self-reporting by entities that see zero benefit in exposing their officers’ wrongdoing. For another, excessive force incidents previously recorded may turn out to be “justified” later, either by internal investigations or via the judicial system.

But a starting point would be nice or, at the very least, some ballpark figures on year-to-year excessive force incidents. Without it, the public is largely reliant on perception — and the perception is that police officers are deploying excessive force with increasing frequency.

The person ultimately responsible for this annual compilation of data is none other than the US Attorney General — the same person who recently traveled to Ferguson, Missouri to help sort out its excessive force problem.

(a) Attorney General to collect
The Attorney General shall, through appropriate means, acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.

(b) Limitation on use of data
Data acquired under this section shall be used only for research or statistical purposes and may not contain any information that may reveal the identity of the victim or any law enforcement officer.

(c) Annual summary
The Attorney General shall publish an annual summary of the data acquired under this section.

(Pub. L. 103–322, title XXI, §210402, Sept. 13, 1994, 108 Stat. 2071.)

But in the 20 years since the law went on the books, very little has happened and no one’s holding the AG or any of the law enforcement agencies below him accountable for the lack of input.

Because the government can’t be bothered to police the nation’s police forces, it’s up to citizens to do the job. Deadspin-spinoff Regressing, ostensibly a stat-focused sports site, has asked its readers to help it compile a database of police shootings over the last three years (2011-2013).

This, too, is a job that is supposed to be performed by government officials.

The Justice Department began to compile statistics on police shootings in 2001, according to the International Business Times. However, their reports cover only the years from 2003 to 2009 and don’t tell the whole story because of incomplete reporting and problems with research methods.

The public will likely find more complete data than that compiled irregularly (and incompletely) from information reluctantly submitted by law enforcement agencies (if it’s submitted at all). Anthony Fisher points out the effed-upness of the situation over at Reason:

Considering the sheer volume of highly personal information the government collects and analyzes (often without consent), it is simply outrageous that the public has to struggle to find even the raw data tallying something as vital as government agents shooting citizens.

The general narrative is that criminals have gotten more dangerous, hence the need for better weapons and armor. But there’s no data to support this theory. Police work is safer than it’s been for over 50 years. It certainly appears that the police themselves are more dangerous, but there’s no data that proves that conjecture. At this point, Americans should have access to nearly 20 years worth of excessive force data. Instead, we have another situation where certain laws are optional — and these laws are being ignored by those who are more than happy to come down hard on even minimal violations by citizens.

[Just a reminder to US cops: not every dangerous situation requires the use of excessive/deadly force. Here’s CCTV footage of Australian police defusing a situation involving a mall full of people and a mentally-unstable gunman who “held heavily-armed officers at bay for 90 minutes before the stand-off ended when Hillier was shot several times with non-lethal rounds.”]

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Comments on “Federal Law Ordering US Attorney General To Gather Data On Police Excessive Force Has Been Ignored For 20 Years”

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37 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Obviously DOJ is too busy chasing down leakers* and levying fines against the financial institutions** that helped spur on this depression/recession

Still haven’t figured out who’s behind the TSDB leaks
Mostly amounts to a few weeks worth of profit. Which may or may not be tax-deductible
***Which will not be prosecuted because ‘too big to fail/jail’

justok (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Obviously, we need another dept, with full funding, to ensure that other depts that are supposed to ensure that other depts that are supposed to ensure that other depts are ensuring other depts are doing what those depts are supposed to be doing are doing what they are supposed to be doing. With a special dept to oversee all that, of course.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Jump to conclusions much?

The more details that come out the more it seems like the Ferguson shooting may be justified.

All the looters and violence by the citizens makes the militarized police look necessary.

Whatever the protesters wanted to accomplish was lost the moment they took to looting and violence. One can’t argue police are using excessive force when they themselfs are using excessive force. Pot meet kettle, two wrongs do not make a right.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

OK. I’ll take the bait. Most of the protests were – and are continuing – to be peaceful. In fact a number of protestors were trying to guard against looting. You deal with looters individually. Second, how in hell does disorder justify suppressing the press – as what has happened? “First they came…”

Whatever (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Okay, I’ll take your bait. A free press does not mean freedom to break the law, or to do things that would get others arrested with impunity. Having seem some of the “reporting” out of this area, it’s clear that some of the “reporters” (yes, scare quotes because many of them don’t seem to be professional) seem intent on shoving cameras in police faces, getting in the way, and ignoring reasonable requests by the police to move away from dangerous areas.

The press cannot just choose to ignore the police, nor can they obstruct them in order to “get a better angle”. It’s even more important in the times of citizen journalists, who think they can declare themselves as “media” and then promptly ignore the law.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The only danger posed to the the reporters are from the police ,and freedom to assemble doesn’t mean get in that box .freedom of the press means freedom not to be shuffled into an area that’s absent news relying on only the authorities talking points . laws enforced by the very police forces that are running rampant and killing, maiming and slaughtering the poor.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Keep up with your lies and your totalitarian speech. And thank God that you can actually speak freely because in your distorted, delusional world you’d probably be shot down for some of your opinions. Let’s see.

seem intent on shoving cameras in police faces, getting in the way, and ignoring reasonable requests by the police to move away from dangerous areas.

Lies, lies and more lies. You seem to have some pathological need to lie and make up things. Find a psychiatrist asap. I’ll just point to the Al Jazeera crew that was shot and teargased without warning and your bullshitting becomes clear.

It’s even more important in the times of citizen journalists, who think they can declare themselves as “media” and then promptly ignore the law.

If some of them actually did it. But instead let us focus on how the police did EXACTLY that in Ferguson. I mean, they are the cops, they can ignore the laws and the Constitution, right?

Come on little man, go seek professional help, you need it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“The more details that come out the more it seems like the Ferguson shooting may be justified.”

The only detail that might show the shooting was justified would be something showing that Brown was armed and that the police officer – or someone around him – was in imminent danger. I honestly believe that if this were the case we’d have heard about that by now. Or, say, in the first five minutes.

Shooting an unarmed man multiple times is something terribly hard to justify.

Also: yes, of course you can argue that the police is using excessive force even if there’s looting going on. You can’t possible be saying that the police should be not held to a higher standard than everyone else. And, you know, they seem to be using excessive force against people who are not looting, which kind of undermines your point a bit further.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The only detail that might show the shooting was justified would be something showing that Brown was armed and that the police officer – or someone around him – was in imminent danger.

I’d want at least two additional details to believe it was ‘justified’.

1. If the officer was carrying a stun-gun or similar device, it was shown to have been fired, both via the device itself, and matching marks on the body.

and/or

2. If the officer was carrying pepper spray, or a similar substance, the residue from it was found on the body, especially around the face and head area.

Basically, only after is was definitively proven that all the available non-lethal options had been tried, and found to be useless, and the suspect was still presenting a clear and present threat to someone’s life, would I consider a lethal response ‘justified’.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“All the looters and violence by the citizens makes the militarized police look necessary.”

In your view. In my view, the militarized police appeared to make the looting and violence worse than it would have been without the militarization.

“Whatever the protesters wanted to accomplish was lost the moment they took to looting and violence”

Again, you’re conflating the protestors with the looters. They were not the same people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Jump to conclusions much?

who jumps to conclusions. you do.

The more details that come out the more it seems like the Ferguson shooting may be justified.

that STILL does not explain 1 thing, why did the cop allow for the body to lay there for 5 fucking minutes? no covering, no reports, no BASIC human dignity.

All the looters and violence by the citizens makes the militarized police look necessary.

looters, they need to be taken care of that is true. however “officer go fuck yourself” I think needs to be taken care of . preferably jailed for VIOLATING standard gun procedure. point a LIVE weapon at a civilian with intent to KILL should either be grounds for termination if not out right jail time.

Whatever the protesters wanted to accomplish was lost the moment they took to looting and violence. One can’t argue police are using excessive force when they themselfs are using excessive force. Pot meet kettle, two wrongs do not make a right.

so should the actions of 1 make it so a group is blamed? then ALL COPS should be tried and executed for the actions of 1.

Donglebert The Needlessly Unready says:

Re: Re: Aside from your disturbed anti-press rants....

One can’t argue police are using excessive force when they themselfs are using excessive force. Pot meet kettle, two wrongs do not make a right.

Are you arguing against yourself there? Two wrongs do not make a right, which is exactly why it can be argued that the police are using excessive force. The police are supposed trained to cope with such things. Otherwise you’d see the police spraying bullets around willy nilly just because someone else does.

Oh wait….

scotts13 (profile) says:

RE: Video

The Australian cops didn’t beat him. Why didn’t they beat him after he was down? Everyone knows you have to beat them after they’re down.

The lack of this report reminds me of when it was discovered that the local groundwater was heavily contaminated with MTBE from an abandoned gas station. The local water authority actually made an announcement saying the water was safe, because there were no federal standards for MTBE. If there were no standards, they couldn’t be exceeding them, therefore there was no problem.

John Lambert (profile) says:

Critique on article from Reddit

VerticalNystagmus
Terribly researched article.
The United States Department of Justice (USDOJ) Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) does provide police excessive force data. http://www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=251
Granted, the data is published every 3 years, and not annually as the statute mandates. Still, this is far from ignoring the law for “20 years” as the article suggests.
Here’s a (better) recent scholarly article on the issue: http://scholarship.law.marquette.edu/mulr/vol96/iss4/8
The TL;DR is that police excessive force data is insufficient because the collection methods are limited, federal agencies have inadequate incentive to produce information and have internal structural issues and limited funding.

JDLambert (profile) says:

Re: Critique on article from Reddit

Rebuttal to critique
forestveggie on Reddit:

Extracted from the Conclusion (marquette.edu): “the tasks of governing and regulating the police … information is a precondition for achieving these tasks, and federal data collection tailored to governing and regulating the police is a necessary component of that information. As of yet, the agencies responsible for that data collection do not recognize—much less fulfill—this mission.”

hoare (profile) says:

The NRA

After the events at Bundy Ranch and Ferguson MO it is evident the NRA is only worried about “white people”.

John Crawford was gunned down in WalMart for carrying an air rifle in an open carry state.

The NRA thinks only white people should have a 2nd Amendment.

Crawford Case: It’s open carry for whites and open season on blacks

The difference is simple, and it’s the difference in almost every case of police violence perpetrated on innocent citizens. He was black.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-wp-wp-root–bc-guns-race-comment21-20140821-story.html

Anonymous Coward says:

Code reclassification

Among its provisions was the order that…

A Feb 26, 2019 Techdirt article “FBI Debuts ‘First And Only’ Police Shooting Database That Is Neither ‘First’ Nor ‘Only’ ” prompted notice of the fact that—

Section 210402 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 (Pub. L. 103-322) (108 Stat. 1796, 2071 – 2072) which was formerly codified at 42 U.S.C. § 14142 up through Supplement IV to the 2012 Ed. (Jan 6, 2017), has been editorially reclassified to 34 U.S.C. § 12602 in Supplement V to the 2012 Ed. (Jan 12, 2018).

The embedded hyperlink up above pointing to the 2010 edition of the United States Code, in this story from 2014, is obsolete now in 2019.

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