WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is moving forward with plans to collect data on how often law enforcement officers use force and how often civilians die during encounters with police or while in police custody, federal officials said Thursday.
FBI and Justice Department leaders say better information on police use of force is essential to build community trust and promote transparency. Demands for more complete data surfaced in particular in the last two years amid a series of high-profile deaths of black men at the hands of police officers, with the federal government unable to say reliably how often fatal encounters occurred across the country.
“Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a written statement. In an appearance at Georgetown University later in the day, she said having additional information will help the department identify trends and “prescribe the problem.”
FBI Director James Comey said at a House committee hearing last month that in the absence of data, “we’re driven entirely by anecdote, and that’s a very bad place to be.”
The FBI plans to begin a pilot program early next year that would gather more complete use-of-force data, including information on cases that don’t result in death. The earliest participants would be the largest law enforcement agencies, as well as major federal agencies such as the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The program would then be expanded to include additional agencies across the country, which would be expected to regularly disclose whether a use-of-force instance resulted in death, injury or a firearm discharge at or in the direction of a person, according to a notice placed in the Federal Register.
“We’re looking for ways to make it as public as possible, both for the general public and for people who do research,” Lynch said at Georgetown.
Though there’s no legal requirement for law enforcement agencies to provide information on police force that doesn’t result in death — the 2014 Death in Custody Reporting Act covered only interactions in which individuals died — the Justice Department said it’s requesting local agencies to disclose details on even nondeadly encounters. The FBI says it has begun work on a computerized system that will help individual agencies input that information.
Reporting of nondeadly encounters would remain voluntary, though federal officials said they’ve already seen cooperation among local agencies.
In additional, Lynch has issued a memo to federal law enforcement agencies notifying them of their obligation to report deaths that occur in their custody.
Follow Eric Tucker on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/etuckerAP