FBI To Replace Terrible Voluntary Police Shooting Reporting System With NEW Voluntary Police Shooting Reporting System
from the unrecognizable-'changes'-ahead! dept
Back in October, the FBI very belatedly admitted it had been doing an abysmal job tracking the number of people killed by law enforcement officers. For nearly 15 years, the DOJ has been charged with collecting this data, but so far has only managed to produce totals that are half of those compiled by citizens and journalists.
The FBI admitted it hadn’t done a very good job collecting this data and vowed to improve things in the future. But it didn’t say how it would accomplish this. It didn’t appear to be considering changing the one factor contributing the most to its yearly under-count: the system is entirely voluntary. As a result, less than 3% of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies have regularly reported their shootings to the FBI.
More details have emerged on the FBI’s new use-of-force tracking initiative. The former program — which none other than FBI director James Comey called a “travesty” — is being overhauled. The voluntary reporting system will be replaced with a revamped, more detailed… completely voluntary reporting system.
The new database will continue to rely on the voluntary reports of local police departments; FBI officials said they lack the legal authority to mandate reporting.
Cynics/critics will be
delighted unmoved to hear the FBI thinks this voluntary system will work better than the last one, which was a federal embarrassment (again, Comey’s own words). Why? Because they’ve been promised that everyone will try harder to turn over information this time.
But [FBI Assistant Director of Criminal Justice Information] Stephen Morris said the leaders of the nation’s largest police organizations have agreed for the first time to lobby local departments to produce the data. The Justice Department is also looking to offer federal grants to local departments that may need additional resources to comply.
“We will be relying on peer pressure and financial incentives,” Morris said.
Well, peer pressure definitely has improved the nation’s law enforcement agencies by ridding them of “bad apples” and internal corruption… oh, wait, none of that ever happened. Financial incentives may work better than peer pressure. A nation full of asset forfeiture abuse can attest to that. But if the money can only be spent on complying with a voluntary effort that might make agencies/individual officers “look bad,” it’s unlikely this “carrot” will work better than the stick the FBI can’t wield.
The FBI may not be able to make this reporting mandatory, but Congress can. So far, legislative efforts aimed at doing exactly that haven’t gone anywhere. But despite FBI officials publicly wringing their hands over the results of the agency’s multiple years of indifference, the agency has yet to offer any public support for this sort of legislation.
If this effort ever approaches large-scale participation, the stats gathered will be much more in-depth than anything the DOJ’s collected to date.
The new effort will go beyond tracking fatal shootings and, for the first time, track any incident in which an officer causes serious injury or death to civilians, including through the use of stun guns, pepper spray and even fists and feet.
Morris said the data will also be “much more granular” than in the past and will probably include the gender and race of officers and suspects involved in these encounters, the level of threat or danger the officer faced, and the types of weapons wielded by either party.
What will likely produce more and better results sooner is this effort — which is already in progress.
Change is also underway at the Bureau of Justice Statistics, another Justice Department agency that has kept a separate count of civilians who die in police custody.
The bureau scrapped its old database and this year created a pilot program that relies on The [Washington] Post’s database and other open-source data-collection efforts to identify deaths that are not being reported. Then, BJS officials contacted police, medical examiners and other local officials to check the accuracy of the information and to gather additional facts.
The government doesn’t always need to bootstrap its data gathering. The private sector tends to produce solid results. Plus,it’s motivated — at least in this case — to collect as much data as possible and make it publicly-available. Law enforcement agencies are generally motivated to do the opposite, unless otherwise instructed. And it generally takes more than a “Would you kindly?” from the federal government to generate changes in mindset.
Anything would be better than what the FBI has delivered for the past several years. But it will take more than the FBI’s public dismay to overcome law enforcement’s natural instinct to bury anything that remotely resembles a questionable use of force.