One Year Later: We Still Don’t Know How Many Shot by Police

One year ago today, the White House released The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing — 116 pages of recommendations meant to address the epidemic of killings of unarmed Black and brown people by the police officers sworn to protect them. The report was supposed to be a blueprint for reforms in policing this country has needed for decades. Yet 12 months after its publication, our government still can’t even come up with the number of people who have been killed by U.S. police.

“[E]mbarrassing and ridiculous”—that’s how the director of the FBI characterized our government’s lack of data on killings by police. He also said it’s “unacceptable” that we have to rely on two newspapers — The Guardian and The Washington Post — to get national estimates for these statistics.

The federal government is the official record keeper of shark attacks and farm animals. Certainly police shootings are of national significance, too, and should be documented by the very entity that provides dollars and resources to local police. How can we start to address a national crisis if our own government can’t measure it?

This year’s tallies by the Guardian and the Post are roughly the same as they were at this point last year — the problems with our police departments’ use of force aren’t going away.

Think of David Joseph, who was unarmed and naked when an Austin, Texas, police officer shot him three times and killed him. Reports indicate that the 17-year-old African-American may have been experiencing a mental health crisis when he was shot in February. Almost a year ago, similar circumstances surrounded the fatal police shooting of Anthony Hill in DeKalb County, Georgia.

A police officer in Winslow, Arizona, shot Loreal Tsingine five times, killing her after she allegedly threatened him with scissors. Police said the 27-year-old Native American woman was a shoplifting suspect from a nearby convenience store.

Mental illness plays a role in 25 percent of fatal police shootings. People of color make up 47 percent of those killed by police. Just as troubling as these statistics is that we have to piece them together from two newspapers’ databases whose totals don’t match up. Why isn’t our government doing the job?  

Because the recommendation in The Final Report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing on data collection is a “should,” not a “must”: “policies on use of force should also require agencies to collect, maintain, and report data to the federal government on all officer-involved shootings, whether fatal or nonfatal, as well as any in-custody death.”

“Should” means that providing data on police shootings to the federal government remains voluntary, which is why the FBI’s Unified Crime Reporting data — the most comprehensive government database on crimes in the nation — can’t produce any national statistics. A grand total of 224 police departments out of the more than 18,000 across the country reported fatal police shootings to the federal government in 2014.

For too long, the Department of Justice has allowed police departments to opt out of sharing their data with the federal government, even when these departments receive federal funds. As we and 81 other organizations urged the Department of Justice in March, it’s time to require any department that gets a piece of the annual $4 billion in criminal justice grants it gives to state and local agencies to collect and report data on police-community encounters. The Justice Department should also issue regulations for the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act, so we know what “custody” means and what happens when departments don’t comply. 

Since the task force report, the White House, FBI, and Bureau of Justice Statistics have each begun new police data programs. But these initiatives all rely on voluntary participation just like their failed predecessors. The numbers say it all:  A mere 53 police departments nationwide have signed up for the White House Police Data Initiative. That’s a participation rate of less than 1 percent.

The FBI says it is making significant improvements to its database. But even with the best data system in the world, what good is it without data? The federal government needs to take more than modest steps to collect information on police-community encounters. And law enforcement has a responsibility to provide the data we need to advance necessary reforms.

If the federal government is giving out federal dollars, law enforcement has to hand over the data. 

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Anonymous

This remains an outrage and a national disgrace. Last April I was perhaps the first person to publish a preliminary analysis of raw reports involving police involved civilian fatalities. At the time only 11 months of newapaper accounts had been collected. My findings showed, in graphic form, that state-by-stare, and region-by-region, there is a significant racial bias in police related civilian fatalities. aseyeseesit.blogspot.com/2015/04/new-data-exposes-racial-bias-in-fatal.html

It is a national shame that there is still no federal requirement for states or police departments to file a notice to the FBI when they kill someone. Accurate records are the first step in reforming a situation that crus out for change.

Anonymous

Why don't you tell us how many police were killed during this period. But of course being a supporter of CCLU (communist civil liberties union) you don't care about that do you? You sir are a jerk.

Anonymous

Why do you capitalize black but not brown? We Hispanics are great for filling out your "Persons of Color" statistic, but you clearly don't see us as equally represented.

HawkAtreides

The descriptor "brown" doesn't equate to "Hispanic". To claim that it does is to ignore its equal application to North Africans, Middle Easterners, Southeast Asians, and Pacific Islanders (among others).

Anonymous

At least 436 people have been killed by U.S. police since January 1, 2016.
At least 1,207 were killed in 2015.
At least 1,112 were killed in 2014.
At least 3,527 have been killed since May 1, 2013, the day the following list was created.
killedbypolice.net

Anonymous

according to killedbypolice.net. Gee how could those stats be wrong. That's believable to libs but I would like something more official before I believe that obviously you don't. You don't happen tobelong to ttat group do you

Mark Story Jenks

This article is racially motivated.. Why do you question a count of black or brown people only? What about other colors, or ethnic groups? Or whites, for that matter?
Keep pushing the racial divide, and that is what you'll get.
But maybe that's what you count on.
For your donations.

Anonymous

Most crimes are committed by people of color, especially blacks. Let's ask this question. How many people are mugged, robbed, raped, carjacked, vandalised, murdered by blacks , who make up only 13% of the population, every year. Whites are victims to black rapist and murderers everyday. This is why half the prison population is made up of minorities. To protect the rest of us Americans.

Anonymous

On fb there's a page called counts they put all of the shootings police done killed innocent people and I think they got it not actual count maybe but I did find my sons name on it so it is accurate,government need to put a stop of cops that are just killing because they have a badge and gun

Anonymous

I agree my brother was shot and killed August 7 2015 he was only 30 years old because someone reported he was possibly carrying a weapon. Where were the police body cams? Of course Fresno police weren't wearing any at the time.

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