Law Enforcement To Submit Data On Police Killings

Officials of the Justice Department have initiated steps to start data collection on the rampant killing of civilians by law enforcement.

Washington Post reports: Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said Thursday that the federal government should collect “better, more accurate data” regarding how many civilians are killed by police and how many officers are killed in the line of duty.

The troubling reality is that we lack the ability right now to comprehensively track the number of incidents of either uses of force directed at police officers or uses of force by police,” Holder said Thursday morning at a ceremony honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., according to his prepared remarks. “This strikes many — including me — as unacceptable.”

The Huffington Post relayed the information that: Justice Department officials (Washington) outlined plans this week to expand nationwide data collection on fatal police interactions and use-of-force incidents. But due to the limitations on what the government  allowed to publish, there are big questions about just how useful the data will be to the general public.

The proposed initiatives include a National Use of Force Data Collection program, under which law enforcement would voluntarily submit information on civilians and officers involved in use-of-force incidents ― as well as other relevant details surrounding these encounters. A pilot program led by the FBI is set to begin in early 2017.

The Justice Department also announced it had completed an initial step in its effort to compile more robust death-in-custody data from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

According to NBC News:  The move follows demands born out of protests surrounding the deaths of unarmed black people in places like Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland.

Washington Post elaborating on the cause for the data collection call mentioned that: A series of high-profile police shootings last year, including the deaths of Michael Brown in Missouri and Tamir Rice in Ohio, sparked a wave of protests and revived a debate regarding the way police officers use lethal force. It also drew attention to the fact that the debate was occurring despite the lack of a comprehensive national database documenting every time police officers shot or killed someone.

The Huffington Post stated that: In August, the Bureau of Justice Statistics, a branch of the Justice Department, published a notice in the Federal Register detailing reporting expectations of law enforcement under the Death in Custody Reporting Act. The DCRA ― reauthorized in 2014, months after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri ― was meant to prompt the government to gather official statistics on the number of people killed by police each year. Under the legislation, the attorney general can levy financial penalties on departments that fail to report. But those penalties can only be used against law enforcement agencies that don’t report deaths; they do not apply to agencies that fail to report data on non-deadly use-of-force incidents.

The updated DCRA guidelines ask the nation’s 19,450 state and local law enforcement agencies and nearly 700 medical examiner’s or coroner’s offices to submit an expanded set of details about in-custody deaths. This information includes the decedent’s name, demographics, behavior and mental health status, as well as the precipitating events, such as the reason for initial contact and other actions by responding officers. The blueprint also calls for departments to provide quarterly summaries with any arrest-related deaths that haven’t been reported.

Washington Post mentioned that: The FBI keeps track of what are deemed “justifiable homicides” by police officers. In 2013, the FBI reported that there were 461 such deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers. However, as the Justice Department notes, the reporting is not mandatory and not all police departments participate. As a result, journalists and academics who independently study the issue believe the numbers are incomplete and say there are more than 1,000 such deaths each year.

The Huffington Post further wrote that: A coalition of civil rights organizations had previously criticized the Justice Department’s data collection process questioning its reliance on the news reports and its failure to sufficiently pressure agencies to report deaths voluntarily. The groups expressed concerns that this would leave a gap between the number of deaths the federal government has been recording and the number of deaths that actually occur. Previous official counts that relied on voluntary reporting by police had registered the total number of “justifiable homicides” of around 400 each year. Subsequent report from independent sources suggests that the total annual death toll is closer to 1,000.

There’s also a larger problem with the data collected by federal authorities: There are limits on what they’re allowed to publish. Agencies are banned from publishing certain personally identifiable details about the deaths they count, and in the past have published only aggregate data that provide little more than a raw number of incidents nationwide or on the state level. That makes it impossible to identify which jail facilities, for example, have unusually high death rates.

In practice, that means the data published by the federal government will never be as comprehensive or accessible as the information that has been recently published by media organizations. A tracker by The Guardian that includes all fatal encounters with police estimates that at least 847 people have been killed by police this year. A separate count from The Washington Post that tracks only shootings states that at least 754 people have been fatally shot by police so far in 2016.

Still, the Justice Department hopes the new guidelines will show a commitment to addressing anxiety over police violence and use of force, which disproportionately affect people of color.

“The initiatives we are announcing today are vital efforts toward increasing transparency and building trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “In the days ahead, the Department of Justice will continue to work alongside our local, state, tribal and federal partners to ensure that we put in place a system to collect data that is comprehensive, useful and responsive to the needs of the communities we serve.”

What is the use of an enforced law when it doesn’t attain its purpose? This is the kind of situation witnessed in the American justice system where police report actually means nothing especially in the death of a Black person.  Laws are put in place but there are no regulations to make sure they work. We are not interested in the collection of data if it’s just to keep records. There are still so many loopholes in the justice system, hence law enforcement always get away with their crimes. Traceability won’t work until there is accountability.

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