FBI Debuts 'First And Only' Police Shooting Database That Is Neither 'First' Nor 'Only'

from the now-with-70-percent-less-data! dept

The FBI -- late to the party -- proudly announces it's the first guest to arrive. (via Axios)

The FBI has launched the nation's first and only database that collects information about police-involved shootings and use-of-force incidents.

Most of this announcement is incorrect. The Washington Post has been collecting data on shootings by cops for a few years now. The Guardian put a couple of years into this project before dropping it. Fatal Encounters has been around since 2012 -- the side project of former newspaper editor D. Brian Burghart... one that now requires 10 hours a day to maintain. There's even a database of dogs killed by police officers, something no one in the government has ever offered to track.

So, the FBI is far from the first. It's not even the "only." But it could have been both.

The FBI had a head start. The DOJ's been charged with collecting this data for more than 15 20 years now. Its efforts on this front have been nonexistent. The DOJ decided the best way to obtain compliance from the nation's law enforcement agencies was to do nothing at all. Reporting was completely voluntary, putting the FBI well behind private parties unwilling to wait for law enforcement agencies to pass along data on shootings.

After 15 years of nothing, the FBI vowed to redouble its efforts. It overhauled the voluntary reporting system in 2015 and replaced it with a brand new voluntary system. Now, after having done nearly nothing to track shootings and nudge the dial towards accountability, the FBI is announcing it has the "first and only" database of its type.

Even its own truncated (and recorded!) statement makes it clear this won't be the most or first anything:

Halpern: The repository has the support of law enforcement agencies across the country who voluntarily submit the data.

Halvorsen: It kicked off on January 1, 2019, and as of February 2019, we already have approximately 4,600 law enforcement agencies that are participating in this collection.

4,600. Wow. Oh wait.

According to the DOJ's 2013 statistics, there are 15,388 law enforcement agencies in the nation. The almighty FBI has managed to secure 30% compliance with its voluntary reporting project. Spectacular.

What this database will have that others won't is information on use of force incidents that don't involve an officer killing someone. That data will be useful. But it will also be woefully limited, seeing as it won't include 70% of the nation's law enforcement agencies.

While it is much better than the decade-plus of the nothing the FBI traded our tax dollars for, it's simply not acceptable for the agency to believe 30% compliance is worth announcing publicly. Unfortunately, it will probably take an act of Congress to make this reporting mandatory. Until this happens, the public is being better served by journalists reporting on killings by cops, rather than waiting around for cops to tell on themselves.

Filed Under: database, doj, fbi, police shootings


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  1. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 26 Feb 2019 @ 10:49am

    FBI doesn't like the data and wants to change it.

    That is, at least my first impression. The FBI has been mandated by congress for decades (if not approaching a century) to track law enforcement use-of-force incidents and report them to the BJS. They've just chosen not to do so and never got punished for their resistance.

    Now, there are several private agencies that are tracking when the police shoot people or use too much force, and the FBI is way way late to the game.

    Unless they're fearing a congressional crackdown (which I doubt) the only other reason I can imagine is someone in the FBI wants to change the narrative being shaped by the facts.


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