Senators Introduce Legislation Calling For Mandatory Data Collection On Police-Involved Shootings

from the because-'if-you-feel-like-it'-just-isn't-working dept

If you’re looking for the number of citizens killed by police officers, don’t ask the government. It just doesn’t know. The DOJ is nominally in charge of compiling this information, but it has not made anything resembling an honest effort to do so.

To begin with, it has mostly ignored the federal law ordering the compilation of stats on excessive force by law enforcement officers. And it has ignored this for the last 20 years. To make things worse, it has turned over the duty of collecting data on police-involved shootings to the FBI, which has even less interest in ensuring the comprehensiveness of its “collection.”

“Collection” has smart quotes nailed to it because the FBI made this a purely voluntary collection. Law enforcement agencies are invited to send in in-custody death data — which is then verified by no one. The only thing agencies have to gain from self-reporting deaths at the hands of its officers are transparency, accountability and potentially better relationships with the people they serve. Those “gains” rarely align with law enforcement interests.

Available data is limited even further by only including citizens who were shot during the commission of a felony. Slimming it down even more is its limitation to “justifiable homicides.” Everything else is simply ignored.

So, it’s left to the public sector to compile this data. One of the most comprehensive databases of police-involved killings is being compiled by The Guardian with the assistance of forerunners in the (unofficial) field like Fatal Encounters and Killed By Police. Other databases are being crowd-sourced or compiled by hand by truly devoted individuals. But the government has shown no interest in compiling this information as a public service.

To that end, two senators (Cory Booker and Barbara Boxer) have introduced legislation calling for the creation and maintenance of a mandatory police-related killings database.

Senators Barbara Boxer of California and Cory Booker of New Jersey proposed legislation that would demand all states submit reports to the US Department of Justice that they said would bring “transparency and accountability to law enforcement agencies nationwide”.

“Too many members of the public and police officers are being killed, and we don’t have reliable statistics to track these tragic incidents,” Boxer said in a statement. “This bill will ensure that we know the full extent of the problem so we can save lives on all sides.”

Note the bone being thrown to law enforcement agencies, who are only too happy to compile statistics that show how “dangerous” their work is. Yes, a bill prompted by a Washington Post article on police-involved killings is preemptively calming the nerves of those who may potentially be forced to hand over information on deaths at the hands of their officers.

All well and good, but we’ve already put two agencies in charge of collecting this data and neither have made more than a minimal effort to do so. Making it mandatory is a huge leap forward, but pushing resistant agencies into coughing up unflattering data will take more than a well-intentioned piece of legislation. It needs to stop obliging those who have withheld this data over the years and instead provide for serious consequences if law enforcement agencies fail to meet the requirements of the law.

If previous efforts along these same lines are any indication, simply demanding agencies comply doesn’t seem to have resulted in increased compliance.

In December, Congress reauthorized an act requiring that states report to the Justice Department instances where civilians are killed by police.

“Non-fatal shooting or use of force data is not captured” under the existing legislation, the release said.

So, six months after that “reauthorization” and there’s been no appreciable change in reporting. At this point, anyone but the government is doing a better job capturing this data. Leading the charge from within may eventually force needed change, but a couple of decades of minimal reporting says otherwise.

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Comments on “Senators Introduce Legislation Calling For Mandatory Data Collection On Police-Involved Shootings”

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30 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

"It wasn't a request"

If they want the police to actually care about the law, then there needs to be real penalties in place for failing to do so. First thing that comes to mind is to cut off, completely, any police agency who doesn’t comply from federal funding or federal programs like the ‘A tank for every precinct’ ones.

Hit ’em were it hurts, the wallet, and watch how fast they start caring(or more likely start whining about how unfairly they’re being treated).

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: "It wasn't a request"

That’s what I was thinking. You need to impose real, crippling penalties to the agencies, public servants and politicians that don’t follow the laws or the corruption and the crimes committed by those in position of power will keep happening.

I’m still waiting for the imprisonment of Clapper for lying to the Congress under oath (among other violations like Panetta and torturers).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "It wasn't a request"

“I’m still waiting for the imprisonment of Clapper for lying to the Congress”

HAHAHAHAHAHA!!! ROFLOL!!! You want our government to be accountable for their misdeeds? I’m still waiting for Obama to be punished for engaging in secretive ‘trade agreements’ with industry interests that are intended to serve the private interests of a few corporations at the expense of the public (not to say Bush and others aren’t just as guilty of jailable offenses). What about the MPAA’s ties to the attorney general, that should deserve jail time if there really are ties. Will the government closely examine that case for misconduct and potentially impose real punishments? Dream on!!!! What planet did you come from.

It’s all about the high court vs low court treatments. It’s perfectly OK for government and industry interests to scam millions of Americans out of a democracy so long as those industry interests pay for those politicians and regulators but for an ordinary citizen to question a police officer? How dare you!!!

Jim says:

?

To the one commenter above. What does the union have to do with it, more like historically, union busting. By not doing the right thing. If the moderator will forgive this, “you kochsuckers” always dumbing the history, killed families of miners looking for safety in mines, killed families of autoworkers, looking for safety in manufacturing, and have gotten away with murders of others, just for grins. Look up some things like the Pullman strike, the Colorado miners strike, and tell me how is it right and christian to kill? Just so you don’t have to make something safer? Just for a dollar, or it makes a product that now is available for the masses. Or freed the masses. Guilds and unions don’t endanger profits, slavish greed does.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ?

I am not the original commenter, but I do not believe OC was against all Unions. You are correct that historically unions were a much needed improvement in the US because working conditions before them were deplorable, but I don’t think that fact is in question. That topic is a red herring at best in this conversation.

When the OC mentions the ‘police unions’, they probably are talking about just those unions who have over the last couple of years stood as obstructions to any meaningful oversight, penalties, or reform being sought against LEOs.

Body cameras? They objected unless they were used ONLY for proving the cop was right (and even then just objected in general… too technical, invasion of privacy, yada yada..).

Harsher penalties for corruption, abuse of power, or negligence? Sorry guys, the police unions won’t allow any rules that will make their members have to change their behavior get through.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

While they were working on setting up the database they could have asked where the money earmarked for the earlier blown off reporting was. Perhaps it is time for them to actually clean house, rather than waste more money on setting up “lone-wolf terrorists” to take down and justify their budgets.

The system is broken, and while a database sounds nice – given the total lack of care previously – it won’t make a difference. It will become a boondoggle blackhole for cash & “fixes” and maybe in 15 years someone might raise a question about why officer deaths are so low for such a “dangerous” job and citizen deaths keep growing as the paramilitary keeps executing people who they didn’t have time to deal with.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Make Investigation of All Use of Force Mandatory

If they want a bill that makes sense, as least for the people, then the FBI should be investigating each and every use of force indecent in each and every police force (including military) and prison (privately owned or not) and maybe for security guards as well.

They should use the ‘terrorism task force’ as there appears to be plenty of them and they really have little else to do.

The report should done monthly with FBI funding dropping each and every month there is no report, or the report is a day late, automatic, no decisions or excuses necessary or allowed. The report should include notice of incidents, progress on investigations, and statistics on prosecutions and for which crime prosecuted.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Make Investigation of All Use of Force Mandatory

If they want a bill that makes sense, as least for the people, then the FBI should be investigating each and every use of force

Two issues
1) The local FBI often work closely with the local police forces.
2) Who investigates when an FBI agent kills someone.

A general solution is for a police force from a different state to investigate to investigate all police and federal law enforcement caused deaths in a state.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Make Investigation of All Use of Force Mandatory

Five things.

1. If they use the terrorism task force they would probably not be local FBI agents.

2. The DOJ could investigate FBI uses of force.

3. Cops from a different state have the same incentive to cover up as local cops do.

4. I recommended investigating all uses of force, not just deaths.

5. Those private databases mentioned in the article could be used as a cross-reference to insure completeness, along with all the Cell-Phone videos showing up all over the place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Make Investigation of All Use of Force Mandatory

The thing is if police forces from different states were auditing each other what might end up happening is one police force may easily give another police agency a pass in exchange for the other police agency giving them a pass when they get audited. What you have is a ‘web of trust’ where police agencies simply give other police agencies a pass in exchange for receiving a pass and the police agency that doesn’t give passes is less likely to receive them. In a sense that’s why you need ‘independent’ auditors.

Anonymous Coward says:

It's not just shootings

Freddie Gray was brutally beaten to death by six pigs in Baltimore and at no point was a gun involved. Other people have been tortured, threatened, beaten, gassed (using weaponry that’s forbidden by international law) and almost none of this documented. Last week, Baltimore police charged a police protestor with “assaulting a police officer” after (a month ago) they maced him, grabbed his hair, body-slammed him to the ground, dragged him across the pavement, etc.

Police LIE.

Anonymous Coward says:

There will always be a place for non-governmental organizations tracking use of force, as police organizations have a strong incentive to report as little as possible to avoid looking bad and/or having their tactics dictated by people on the other side of the thin blue line. A cool thing about the Internet is that it allows such a database via crowdsourcing that, while incomplete, provides an important counterpoint to the “official” numbers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Typo -> "Public sector"

So, it’s left to the public sector to compile this data.

The FBI, DOJ, and police departments are part of public sector. The public sector is defined as any enterprise paid for by public funds (e.g. taxes). If the public sector were compiling the data, it would mean that people were doing their jobs.

I’m not sure if you meant the “private sector” (like the Guardian), or just “the public” (though from context, I’m leaning towards the latter). Either of those would be more accurate than “public sector.”

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

It was my belief that reporting of homicides by law enforcement was already mandated

And that they’ve only been reporting justified homicides, leaving out unjustified ones with impunity.

So, unless they’re implementing some kind of punitive measure, I expect that our law enforcement agencies are going to continue to report only what they want to report.

Considering the treatment of the Michael Brown homicide, in which it wasn’t even filled out until over a day later as an afterthought, it’s a systemic problem. We’d have to reform the entire US police system down to the retraining every officer.

Justme says:

Honestly. . .

1. Any time an officer fires their weapon reporting should be required and all evidence related to any investigation submitted for a mandatory federal review process.

2. Federal funding should be withheld for any agency not in compliance.

3. Federal funding should be withheld from all agencies in any state that has 5% or more non-compliance.

4 Withholding or submitting false information in a report should be a federal felony, resulting in charges against the reporting agencies senior officer, the people responsible for compiling the report, and any person shown to be involved in that falsification.

Law Enforcement should be held to a high standard and considering their assertion that they can collect all your data, to the point they know anytime you so much as take a piss, It’s in no way unreasonable to require reporting any time they deploy potential fatal force!

They have thrown out the constitution, reason, and compliance with the law in the name of protecting us from terrorists. Now let’s put a little effort in closer to home!

RealityBites (profile) says:

Re: Since they feel entitled to all data they also should be held accountable!

Since they have all the data any un-solved crime is their fault 100%. If a crime is unsolved for more than 10 days they should be charged with dereliction of duty and have their pension cut, then their wages cut, then put them in jail.

Time for some responsibility and accountability.

Anonymous Coward says:

Let’s see, the US has around 1,000 police related shooting deaths every year. In comparison most other first world countries average less than 1 police shooting a year.

This is a pretty big disconnect going on here and I hate to say it but US police have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that they cannot handle being armed with a deadly weapon.

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