New bill would force states to provide data on police shootings

Reuters / Carlo Allegri
A newly introduced bill in the US Senate would require states to collect information on incidents in which people are shot, injured or killed by police officers. It would bring transparency and accountability to law enforcement departments nationwide.

Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and Barbara Boxer (D-California) introduced the bill – dubbed the Police Reporting of Information, Date and Evidence Act – on Tuesday, arguing it would provide information on cases when civilians are harmed by law enforcement that would help federal, state and local officials better protect the public as well as police officers.

“The first step in fixing a problem is understanding the extent of the problem you have. Justice and accountability go hand in hand – but without reliable data it’s difficult to hold people accountable or create effective policies that change the status quo,” said Booker in a statement.

The act was introduced the day after the Washington Post and the Guardian both ran stories on the number of people shot and killed by police nationwide since January of this year.

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The Guardian disclosed on Monday that 467 people have died in incidents with law enforcement so far this year – 238 white, 136 black, 67 Latino, and 29 Asian, Native American or of another ethnicity – of which 102 were unarmed.

The outlet’s survey found that black people killed by police were twice as likely to be unarmed as white people. The deaths all involved law enforcement in some way, whether officers opened fire on suspects, used a Taser, killed someone via police vehicle or by way of altercations in police custody.

The Washington Post survey, meanwhile, only studied gun shootings by law enforcement. It found that 385 people have been killed so far this year, a rate of 2.5 shootings per day. The Post said that of the 5,099 gun deaths in the US, data acquired from the Gun Violence Archives, law enforcement is responsible for one in every 13, or 8 percent.

The Booker/Boxer bill was introduced because there are no mandatory federal programs that collect data on law enforcement shootings and use of force, or even officer deaths. The FBI, through the Bureau of Justice Statistics, compiles data but reporting from the 18,000 police departments nationwide is voluntary.

Booker said that since January, 54 law enforcement officers have been killed in the line of duty and 14 others have been shot and killed by suspects. The data comes not from federal agency statistics but from the website Officer Down Memorial Page.

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Too many members of the public and police officers are being killed, and we don’t have reliable statistics to track these tragic incidents,” Boxer said in a statement. “This bill will ensure that we know the full extent of the problem so we can save lives on all sides.”

The Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000 was allowed to expire in 2006, but was reauthorized in December 2014. It requires states to report to the Department of Justice any time a civilian is killed by a police officer while in custody or during the course of an arrest. However, this doesn’t include reports on non-fatal shootings or use of force. A Wall Street Journal story in December, according to Booker, found that more than 550 incidents of civilians killed in police custody went unreported between 2007 and 2012.

The Boxer/Booker measure would require states to report to the Attorney General on use-of-force incidents involving officers and the public that result in serious bodily injury or death. The reports must include information such as the gender, race, ethnicity and age of the civilian, as well as the date, time and location of the incident, the number of officers and number of civilians involved in an incident, whether the civilian had a weapon, and the type of force used against officers and civilians.

The bill would provide grants for tip lines and hotlines to gather information regarding shootings. Grants could also help fund state efforts to support law enforcement in developing use-of-force training, de-escalation techniques and bias training.