The Department of Justice plans to end the trend of missing data tied to police shootings, which has ignited a series of protests throughout the United States.
According to the New York Times, the department will begin collecting nationwide data early next year to track federal agents’ use of force in light of a stream of fatal encounters, many involving unarmed black men, in places like Ferguson, Charlotte, Baltimore and Baton Rouge. “I can’t believe two years into this crisis that we’re still having conversations about data,” Kanya Bennett, a Washington lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, said of an initiative that is arguably overdue.
FBI director James B. Comey agrees. Last year, he told lawmakers that it was “embarrassing” that news outlets, such as The Washington Post and The Guardian, could produce better data than his own agency. “People have data about who went to a movie last weekend, or how many books were sold, or how many cases of the flu walked into the emergency room,” he said, “and I cannot tell you how many people were shot by police in the United States last month, last year, or anything about the demographic. And that’s a very bad place to be.”
Under the project, announced Thursday (Oct. 13), the F.B.I. will assemble data on the use of force by approximately 178,000 agents at major federal law enforcement agencies and the DOJ will collect data on “in custody” deaths linked to shootings, suicide and natural causes from local and state law enforcement departments. The third part of the plan involves a $750,000 “police data initiative” designed to help local departments collect and publicly release information on a broader range of actions, such as stops and searches of citizens, not limited to shootings.
The primary goal of the undertaking, according to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, is to increase transparency while building trust between law enforcement and the communities they serve.