FBI to begin collecting self-reported data on fatal police encounters in 2017


The Obama administration has announced details of an ambitious set of plans to collect comprehensive national data on fatal police encounters, and has said it will also attempt to collect records of non-lethal use of force incidents.

Since the fatal police shooting of unarmed African American teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the federal government has come under increasing pressure to collect accurate data on police use of deadly force. This pressure intensified in 2015 following the launch of the Guardian’s ongoing project, The Counted, which logs all officer-involved deaths through a model of verified crowdsourcing.

The US attorney general, Loretta Lynch, said on Thursday that such data was “essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations” as she revealed further details of an FBI scheme, announced in 2015, to try to collect official use of force records from police departments around the US.

“The initiatives we are announcing today are vital efforts toward increasing transparency and building trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve,” Lynch said in a statement.

The FBI pilot scheme will begin in 2017 and is due to include around 178,557 officers in some of the nation’s largest police departments, as well as some federal and state law enforcement agencies.

Individual departments will be asked to report virtually every time they use force through an online portal. As part of the trial, agencies will also voluntarily forward original records to the FBI, so that federal officials can see whether local officers are using the tool correctly.

“The goal of this review is to ascertain whether the agencies are applying the definitions and using the provided instructions in a uniform manner,” according to the proposal.

The FBI’s expansive new system goes a step further than previous data collection attempts because it will track non-lethal force in addition to police killings. Every month, agencies will be asked to report each incident in which force caused death or serious bodily injury as well as every time officers fire a gun “at or in the direction of” a person.

The second phase of the trial program will include on-site visits to some of the involved agencies to “ascertain the level and source of underreporting of within-scope incidents”.

If the program is extended beyond the pilot to include all US departments, it will face a major limitation: reporting the data to the FBI will remain voluntary. This means that many police departments could simply opt out of reporting altogether and skew the national count. Voluntary reporting has been a significant constraint on past attempts to count police use of force.

A DoJ spokesman explained that mandating police departments to report use of force data via the FBI’s online portal would require an act of Congress. In 2014, Congress did pass the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which mandates states and federal agencies to report in-custody deaths or risk losing federal funding. But that law has never been enforced, and doesn’t apply to non-lethal uses of force.

Previous attempts by the FBI have relied on local police departments’ voluntary adherence to a scheme attempting to collect data only on “justifiable homicides”. In 2014 the FBI recorded just 444 of these deaths, a figure that was widely regarded as unreliable as hundreds of departments failed to report their records. In 2015, the Guardian recorded 1,146 fatalities. The Counted has logged 847 deaths so far in 2016.

“I don’t have the power to require people to supply us with data,” the FBI director, James Comey, said in 2015, in the wake of harsh criticism of the bureau’s flawed count.

Last year, Comey said it was “embarrassing and ridiculous” that the Guardian and the Washington Post, which runs a similar project documenting only police shootings, had better records than his own department.

On Thursday, Lynch said that the department would attempt to navigate around the lack of a statutory framework by partnering more closely with a range of law enforcement bodies around the country and hinted the department could fine states who do not comply.

The justice department’s data collection arm, the Bureau of Justice statistics, is running a concurrent scheme that more closely mirrors the Guardian’s methodology and has already begun a pilot phase. The BJS will track all arrest-related deaths, including deaths following force by law enforcement and those from natural causes and suicide. The BJS pilot does not depend on agencies to voluntarily report fatalities, but instead works to confirm media reports and requires local police to provide additional details.



Source link

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*