Today at an event honoring Civil Rights Leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., US Attorney General Eric Holder stated that we need “more accurate” data on incidents of violence between citizens and police.
“The troubling reality is that we lack the ability right now to comprehensively track the number of incidents of either uses of force directed at police officers or uses of force by police,” said Holder, according to the Washington Post.
The FBI reports that there were 461 "justifiable homicides" by police in 2013, but police departments are not required to report that information, and there are problems with the data. Around the time of the Michael Brown shooting this past summer, the Justice Department’s chief statistician told the Post that “the FBI’s justifiable homicides and the estimates from (arrest-related deaths) both have significant limitations in terms of coverage and reliability that are primarily due to agency participation and measurement issues.”
Jim Fisher, a one-time FBI agent who now works as a criminal law professor and author, told the Post that he was surprised to find there are no reliable statistics on how many police-involved shootings happen in America each year. "The answer to me is pretty obvious," Fisher said. "The government just doesn’t want us to know how many people are shot by the police every year."
So, Fisher started a database dedicated to documenting every police involved shooting his daily internet query would render.
Fisher isn’t alone in this citizen-driven documentation of police misconduct. In an August article in The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal writes that UCLA’s Center of Policing Equity is also on the case. The Center created a Justice Database, which documents incidents of police misconduct across the nation. In 2013, the Justice Database received $1 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation.
As efforts to document police misconduct come to the forefront, the other end of the citizen vs. cop conversation is gaining attention as well. On January 1, 2015 an article written by Chuck Canterbury, the National President of The Fraternal Order of Police, appeared in the USA Today. Canterbury wrote that little is known about the violence against police, as it isn’t mandatory to report such incidents.
“For example, in 2012, police departments in New York City, Chicago and Columbus, Ohio — some of our nation's largest — did not participate in the FBI's Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA) reporting program,” according to Canterbury.
The reports of violence against police (just like reports of police violence against citizens) are not very reliable or comparable between geographies because reporting incidents is not mandatory.
Although Attorney General Eric Holder is one of the highest ranking officials to go on record and address the issue of police-violence data, he did not suggest a new initiative or method of improving data collection.
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