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. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Feb 2019 @ 11:44am


    The DOJ's been charged with collecting this data for more than 15 years now.

    That statement links to an Oct 5, 2015 Techdirt article, “FBI Director Says Agency Will Track Police-Involved Killings Better By Not Changing Any Of Its Current Methods” which does not really support the assertion it's linked from.

    Perhaps you meant instead to link to this Aug 25, 2014 _Techdirt article, “Federal Law Ordering US Attorney General To Gather Data On Police Excessive Force Has Been Ignored For 20 Years” ?

    That 2014 article is reachable via another one of the links included above, “FBI To Replace Terrible Voluntary Police Shooting Reporting System With NEW Voluntary Police Shooting Reporting System” (Techdirt, Dec 14, 2015), which states your 15 year assertion, saying:

    For nearly 15 years, the DOJ has been charged with collecting this data…

    And from the target Aug 25, 2014 link:

    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.”

    That article, somewhat unfortunately, contains an embedded hyperlink to a section of the US code that has now apparently been editorially reclassified.

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