For the First Time, Law Enforcement Must Report on All Officer-Related Killings

As police-involved killings of individuals like Michael Brown and Philando Castile continue to draw the public’s attention, provoking widespread outrage, it is hard to deny that there may be something quite amiss in the way U.S. law enforcement operates.

And as activists affiliated with the Black Lives Matter movement argue, the victims of police killings are disproportionately black Americans.

Are these types of incidents commonplace or mere aberrations? Is there data that identifies a trend? Many Americans may be surprised to learn that law enforcement agencies only provide tallies and details of officer-involved to the FBI on a voluntary basis — and many choose to not do so, despite a law which withholds 10 percent of a department’s federal funding in such cases.

Estimates suggest that, because of this, current official government statistics only represent around half of the true tally of in-custody deaths. This has meant having to rely on independent studies in order to paint a more accurate picture.

In one such study, recently published in the British Medical Journal, it was estimated that over 1,000 Americans died as a result of police encounters in 2012 — coming to one death for every 291 police stops or arrests. (And even these figures are likely quite conservative.)

This, however, is about to change in a significant way. The Department of Justice, in a critically important policy change, will now compel all 19,450 U.S. law enforcement agencies to report on all “arrest-related deaths.” For the very first time in United States history, data on this serious issue will be collected and reported, as overseen by the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Perhaps just as important as tallying these deaths, law enforcement agencies will now also be required to provide thorough detailing of the circumstances of each incident — for example, whether firearms were involved or if Tasers were used. These reports will also include details on the individual killed (race, age, etc.), how the incident escalated and if any weapons were used by the victim.

Medical examiners will also be required to report to either confirm or expand the details provided by agencies.

This first reports will be collected at the end of 2016; in 2017, agencies will begin reporting to the BJS on a quarterly basis.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of the Department of Justice’s new mandate. When accurate information of this nature is absent, it is difficult to have serious policy debates of any true value. The first step to fixing a problem is to identify it — and to acknowledge that there is one.

What will these reports reveal? In all likelihood, that the troubling phenomenon of excessive police force and fatal overreactions is as bad, if not worse, than many law enforcement reform activists have feared.

Practically speaking, these reports will enable the Department of Justice, without having to first conduct individual probes, to identify “problem” agencies — meaning those with demonstrable trends of using deadly force in excess can be targeted for reform and, when necessary, can prompt the dismissal of leadership and officers who perpetuate these trends.

It won’t yield radical reform overnight — but to say this change is insignificant would be far from accurate.

Photo Credit: Jupiterimages / Thinkstock

70 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y10 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y10 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J10 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J10 months ago

thanks for sharing

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Joette B
Joette B1 years ago

WE CAN'T LET THIS GO TO THE FORGOTTEN BURNER PUSH THIS HARD CALL YOUR LOCAL POLICE AND ASK QUESTIONS .I worked in psych institutions and violence happened but every scratch bruise boo-boo had an incident report IN FULL DETAIL with action taken and how to prevent post conferences focusing on improvement if nurses can why don't the LAW ENFORCERS VIDEO ALL INTERACTIONS WITH CLIP ON CAMS for improvement and accountability PLEASE PEOPLE DON'T LET THIS GO!

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Elaine W.
Past Member 2 years ago

I am amazed that this is a recent requirement. "For the first time?? Law enforcement has to report on all officer related killings????" OMG

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Jen S.
Jen S2 years ago

Reliable statistics may lead to change but I assumed this reporting was not discretionary but mandatory long prior to this post. Statistics reveal all manner of issues; consider the statistical analysis of Ferguson, MO. A great deal was revealed including that 40 percent of routine traffic sts targeted 11 percent of the population. Were I part of that group of citizens, I would have found it singularly annoying in addition to institutionally unjust. Where was the ACLU? In any case, Missouri justice is an oxymoron, a very old, very valid oxymoron. It is beautiful but sexism, racism,and the old white men network are alive and well.

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Good statistics help.

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Joyce W.
Joyce W2 years ago

Law enforcement officers are not above the law! They need to be held accountable & responsible for all shootings. This is long overdue. They've been getting away with murder....

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

hank you for sharing.

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