Legal Issues

by Tim Cushing


Filed Under:
data, doj, information, police, shootings



DOJ Finally Going To Force Law Enforcement Agencies To Hand Over Info On People Killed By Police Officers

from the better-late-than-never dept

At long last, the federal government is getting serious about tracking the use of deadly force by law enforcement officers.

For most of the last two decades, the DOJ has been collecting this information from local law enforcement agencies, but only on a voluntary basis. As a result, the federal numbers have nearly no relation to the real numbers -- which have been compiled by a handful of private actors, including The Guardian, a UK-based journalistic entity.

Last June, legislators introduced a bill (that promptly went nowhere) which would replace voluntary reporting with mandatory reporting. The FBI expressed its concern about the government's inability to collect accurate information on citizens killed by police officers, offering on multiple occasions to replace its voluntary system with a better voluntary system.

The Guardian is reporting that the voluntary system is finally being replaced with something that will create actual accountability.

Police departments will be required to give the US justice department full details of deadly incidents involving their officers each quarter, under a new government system for counting killings by police that was influenced by the Guardian.

Announcing a new program for documenting all “arrest-related deaths”, federal officials said they would actively work to confirm fatal cases seen in media reports and other open sources rather than wait for departments to report them voluntarily.

This still lets local PDs off the hook in terms of immediate self-reporting. But that's probably ok, as there's nothing in the reporting of deaths at the hands of police officers that encourages urgency or transparency from law enforcement agencies. With the feds independently verifying reported deaths -- i.e., those reported by journalists -- delays between reports and their addition to the federal numbers will be decreased dramatically.

Law enforcement agencies aren't completely off the hook, however. They'll still be required to report in custody deaths to the Justice Department. The difference is that the DOJ will no longer wait around for agencies to self-report. Local agencies heavily reliant on federal funding will probably be the agencies filling out these reports the fastest.

In their Federal Register article, officials cited their authority under the death in custody reporting act – a law that states local departments must report all deaths in custody to the justice department or lose 10% of their federal funding. The law has been largely ignored since being reauthorized in December 2014.

The other change of note is that this will no longer be a year-end tabulation after all the self-reporting is completed. Agencies can fill out one form for 2016's total deaths, but going forward will be required to hand these in quarterly.

Agencies will also be responsible for collecting a lot of data they've never had to previously. Details about the deadly incident will need to be provided, along with demographic data on the deceased. Coroners and medical examiners serving law enforcement agencies will also need to turn over information to the government and will be asked to confirm local news reports on officer-involved deaths.

This is a huge step forward for a federal agency that has long relied on voluntary reporting from compliant law enforcement agencies to tabulate the use of deadly force by officers. It's a sign that the federal government finally realizes the good people in law enforcement can't be relied on to hand over data on incidents that make them look less that perfect on a voluntary basis. Targeting federal funding is a smart move because that's the sort of money that gets spent on surveillance tools and 1033 acquisitions that agencies normally couldn't afford without it.

The real test will come when it's implemented, as it often takes more than federal mandates to alter entrenched cultures where accountability and transparency are considered weaknesses.


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 3:15pm

    It'll help get a more accurate number of people killed by police, which is really good and needed, but it won't do anything to hold police accountable for those deaths/murders. The system isn't suddenly going to see there's official numbers saying the police killed 1000 unarmed people in a year and decide it's actually going to start to prosecute them. That's where the real work needs to be done.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Unanimous Cow Herd, 10 Aug 2016 @ 3:37pm

    this matters

    I'm interested to see what the actual ratios of unarmed people, by demographic, that are killed by LEOs. I agree with AC above that this is only a start, though. Until there is some kind of accountability, keep those cameras rolling!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    Chris-Mouse (profile), 10 Aug 2016 @ 3:52pm

    The DOJ will take all this information and bury it in an archaic file system. It will be strangely unable to find any of this collected information, except when it's useful to the DOJ to have the information public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Skeeter, 10 Aug 2016 @ 3:53pm

    Re:

    Actually, the number is far higher than 1000. With approximately 11,000 firearms deaths per year now reported to the FBI, there is also little detail to differentiate an 89-year old grandmother from shooting a would-be rapist in her house at 1:00AM from that of a convenience store robber shooting the clerk (and almost NO police-related deaths of any ilk, accidental bystander or intentional felon) are reported at all.

    We (Americans) keep wanting to polarize this 'death by firearms' debate to push disarming the public, but in reality, with almost 350-million population, we have 3x more automobile deaths per year than we do firearm deaths. We are determined to pick the fruit at the top of the tree first, before we go for that 'low-hanging easy stuff' - and most who want the 2nd Amendment protected want to know why the government wants to scare the liberal sheep and drive such 'disarmament' efforts so ferociously?

    A great YouTube video addresses this with a group of gun-control supporting Senators by the interviewer asking them directly, 'Ok, if you support gun control, will you put this banner in your home's front yard?' (holds up a 'This house is a firearm-free home' sign). The Senator stumbles, twice, then says, 'uh, I can't say...probably not...it might draw unwanted attention'.

    That says it all - they want YOU disarmed, not everyone in the nation (their Secret Service will still be packing full-automatics). If it's such a great, safe idea to be protected by armed bodyguards, then why can't the people be armed? It's about control and power, silly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 3:58pm

    It still astounds me that there isn't a comprehensive database of every death, police-related or not.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 4:02pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes, I know it's greater than 1000 deaths by officers, it was just an example. It really doesn't matter if it's 1000 or 5000, my point was that police aren't suddenly going to be prosecuted for them once the DOJ gets a real number on the books and that's what really needs to change.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 10 Aug 2016 @ 4:16pm

    Puzzled officer lament

    "Wait...Perp lives matter?"

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    JoeCool (profile), 10 Aug 2016 @ 4:33pm

    Already got a loop-hole

    It only applies to deaths IN CUSTODY. Many/most take place before a perp has been apprehended. In custody deaths are simply the most disgusting since the deceased is usually in hand cuffs or otherwise restrained when they're killed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Thad, 10 Aug 2016 @ 4:53pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes, automobiles cause more deaths than guns.

    That's why you need a license to use one.

    But sorry, go on; you were saying something about relative privation?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 5:10pm

    A good first step

    This is the first step and long overdue. It's unthinkable that civilian deaths have not been tracked on the federal level when it's been proven there are rogue departments. Now maybe based on the figures, an investigation can take place rather than based on protest and outrage as it is now. I don't think any police dept would want to see themselves at the bottom, nor would voters.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. icon
    Padpaw (profile), 10 Aug 2016 @ 5:16pm

    I doubt the Doj will reveal to the public this information though

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 5:21pm

    The problem with voluntary reporting is that it creates reporting bias. Only those police departments that have little to no one killed by police officers will report their numbers. Those with a larger number of people killed by police officers will naturally choose to opt out. Therefore the numbers we see get skewed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 5:39pm

    I expect law enforcement to do the same thing I expect Whatever to do: stonewall and goalpost shift like hell.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 10 Aug 2016 @ 5:57pm

    Re: we have 3x more automobile deaths per year than we do firearm deaths

    In no other developed country is the ratio that low.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 10 Aug 2016 @ 5:59pm

    Re: to push disarming the public

    You have already lost that argument. The guns US citizens are allowed to own are pea-shooters compared to what your Government has available.

    But go on, cling to your Second Amendment security blanket like it will keep the bad bogeymen away...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 6:21pm

    Re: Re:

    Shut up, stop trying to derail every conversation into gun control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. icon
    Groaker (profile), 10 Aug 2016 @ 6:34pm

    Tool

    A firearm is just another tool. For me it is good to scare off bears, coyotes, two legged thugs, and other animals which can be hostile and dangerous.

    It is very nice of people who live in cities and suburbs are willing to put my life and that of my family in danger by arguing that firearms can be replaced by the police. First, the police take 20 minutes or more to get here, and secondly it appears that the police are even more dangerous than large carnivores.

    While I do not hunt, others in my area are poor enough to really need the extra protein that hunting and fishing bring in. Having spent my career in Public Health, I have seen far too many infants and children that were suffering from malnutrition. To take away the food brought in by hunting would be another crippling and disabling blow to children and expecting mothers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 6:36pm

    Re: Re:

    I'm not sure how you can claim that trying the US is trying to "pick the fruit at the top of the tree first" and then refer to traffic fatalities as "low-hanging easy stuff."

    Even since 1975 the US has made tremendous strides in reducing traffic fatalities. The number of traffic fatalities per 100 million miles traveled in 1975 was 3.35. In 2013 this number is now 1.08. Regulations and safety requirements have essentially cut traffic fatalities to a third of what they once were. This area is no longer "low-hanging easy stuff" -- they have spent a lot of money and effort to get automobile deaths down to the point where they are now.

    A look at traffic fatalities compared to gun deaths for the US, UK, Australia, and Canada in 2013 (all data retrieved from the respective governments)

    US Traffic: 32,719 US Gun: 11,419 Traffic/Gun = 2.87
    UK Traffic: 1,901 UK Gun: 58 Traffic/Gun = 32.78
    Aus Traff : 1193 Aus Gun: 208 Traffic/Gun = 5.74
    Can Traff : 1923 Can Gun: 131 Traffic/Gun = 14.68

    You can argue that our ratio (US) is so low because:
    1) we've spent so much time and attention on traffic rules and automobile safety that our traffic fatalities are much lower (per capita or miles driven) than other countries, or
    2) you can assume that most traffic rules and auto safety regulations are similar between the countries and we haven't spent time and effort trying to rein in gun deaths.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. identicon
    N Titty, 10 Aug 2016 @ 7:00pm

    Bored

    "including The Guardian, a UK-based journalistic entity"

    Or "newspaper" as we call them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 7:08pm

    10% of federal funding is a nice gesture, but...

    I'm pretty sure the bill was supposed to say 100%. :-)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 7:51pm

    Re: Re: we have 3x more automobile deaths per year than we do firearm deaths

    In no other developed country is the ratio that low.

    Yeah, America's roads are way too safe.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Aug 2016 @ 7:54pm

    Re: Tool

    Nanny hates guns.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 10 Aug 2016 @ 10:24pm

    Roar of a paper tiger

    While it's nice that they bothered to include a penalty that might actually get police to pay attention, a cut in federal funding, I imagine most of them would be willing to accept a 10% loss in funding if it meant not having to be upfront about how many people seem to die any time their officers are in the area.

    There's also the problem pointed out by the first commentor, having the data means absolutely squat if those with the power to hold the police accountable have absolutely no interest in doing so, and I doubt more 'timely' reporting is going to change that in the slightest.

    It sounds nice and all, but this is something that should have been in place and enforced decades ago, pushing it forward now just comes across as an empty gesture meant to try and paper over the fact that for decades the government basically let the police do whatever they wanted without intervention, and with no accountability or even interest in it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    DB (profile), 10 Aug 2016 @ 10:33pm

    Why quarterly reports?

    Why are reports quarterly?

    Do we really expect that police-involved deaths are so common that the reports need to batch up the incidents?

    It would be much more reasonable for a report to be required within a short period (two weeks) of the death. I'm not a proponent of additional paperwork, but it doesn't seem unreasonably burdensome to document someone's death.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 10 Aug 2016 @ 10:45pm

    Re: the US has made tremendous strides in reducing traffic fatalities.

    Even as car usage has gone up, traffic fatalities have gone down, not just in relative terms but in absolute ones as well.

    The same cannot be said for guns. “Gun safety” always was, and remains, an oxymoron.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. icon
    orbitalinsertion (profile), 10 Aug 2016 @ 10:53pm

    Re:

    It will suddenly become a national security matter and handled accordingly. I.e., buried. I can't feature them sending Predators after the local PD.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. icon
    TRX (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 5:26am

    There are something like 12,000 police jurisdictions in the United States. They don't work for the Department of Justice; they work for, and are authorized by, their own local governments. If they're not bound by any contracts via taking Federal money, the Fed has no means of compelling them to make reports, or to do anything at all, for at matter.

    If the Feds want to compel reporting they might be better off doing it through the judiciary via the DAs' offices and courts.

    Otherwise, if they want that data, they can send Men In Black out to every station or courthouse, examine the records, and compile it for themselves. Which might not be a bad thing, since the DOJ appears to have an excess of bureaucratic drones in need of something useful to do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 6:07am

    Re: Roar of a paper tiger

    While it's nice that they bothered to include a penalty that might actually get police to pay attention, a cut in federal funding, I imagine most of them would be willing to accept a 10% loss in funding if it meant not having to be upfront about how many people seem to die any time their officers are in the area.

    There may be great truth in that.

    There's also the problem pointed out by the first commentor, having the data means absolutely squat if those with the power to hold the police accountable have absolutely no interest in doing so, and I doubt more 'timely' reporting is going to change that in the slightest.


    Not sure about that. Unless the FBI decides to bury the information by either questionably legitimate (national security, e.g.) or completely illegitimate (no responsive records, or not searching the right database, e.g.) means,
    someone might could use that information to demonstrate that a given department has a serious problem on its hands. See here, for explanation. I believe the technical term is "disparate treatment"

    It sounds nice and all, but this is something that should have been in place and enforced decades ago, pushing it forward now just comes across as an empty gesture meant to try and paper over the fact that for decades the government basically let the police do whatever they wanted without intervention, and with no accountability or even interest in it.


    Sad, but true.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 6:09am

    Re: Re:

    "We (Americans) keep wanting to polarize this 'death by firearms' debate to push disarming the public .."

    I doubt that. Got any data in support of this claim?
    And not some bullshit poll of people on the street, I mean a real scientific study with more than a few data points.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 6:11am

    Re: Puzzled officer lament

    I think we all know the truth ... (only) rich lives matter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 6:14am

    Re: Roar of a paper tiger

    "a penalty that might actually get police to pay attention, a cut in federal funding"

    They would simply make up for that by arresting more cash.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 8:49am

    Re: Re: Puzzled officer lament

    Kim Dotcom might beg to differ. He was quite rich before the RIAA/MPAA encouraged the DOJ to have the New Zealand police perform a radically excessive raid on his property. He is now a pauper. His riches were not enough because he did not have the right political connections. Your statement would be better phrased as "Only well-connected lives matter." Some rich are well-connected in the right political circles, and most well-connected are rich, but being rich is insufficient.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. icon
    R.H. (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 12:02pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    If I want to carry a concealed firearm in Michigan I also need a license. If I want to buy a handgun here I need a separate purchase license. I don't seem to understand your argument.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    R.H. (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 12:08pm

    Re:

    You'll notice that the penalty for failing to report in-custody deaths in a timely manner is a 10% reduction in federal funding. My guess is that enough American police departments do receive some level of federal funding to make this penalty work for the majority of them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    Peter Orlowicz (profile), 11 Aug 2016 @ 12:43pm

    Re: Roar of a paper tiger

    The 10% reduction of Federal funding only applies at the discretion of the Attorney General, so it's not automatic. The AG can also impose less than a 10% reduction if he/she chooses (10% is a cap rather than a requirement), or simply choose not to impose any reduction at all. Paper tiger indeed.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 5:28pm

    Re: Tool

    Good thing only your imaginary boogeymen want to do those things.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Aug 2016 @ 5:38pm

    Re:

    This is literally wrong. Ask a court.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Aug 2016 @ 10:47am

    Re: Re: the US has made tremendous strides in reducing traffic fatalities.

    The same cannot be said for guns. “Gun safety” always was, and remains, an oxymoron.

    Kind of like "knife safety". There's a reason they don't allow them on airplanes or in many government buildings. Get rid of knives!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Lawrence D’Oliveiro, 13 Aug 2016 @ 7:36pm

    Re: Kind of like "knife safety".

    Again, knives (depending on the kind of knife) are constructive tools--done much cooking, lately? Whereas guns are purely destructive weapons, with no constructive uses at all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40. icon
    Stoatwblr (profile), 17 Aug 2016 @ 2:13pm

    quarterly reporting?

    This isn't the 1950s.

    These should be reported WHEN THEY HAPPEN.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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