No National Data On Police Killings — “It Leaves A Tremendous Void”


Police police officers are licensed to kill if necessary but nobody counts all the bodies or tracks what, if any, consequences might follow, says the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The nation's 18,000 police agencies submit specified categories of crime data every year to the FBI, but inclusion of justifiable homicides is optional. A Post-Dispatch analysis of data from 2005-12 shows 1,100 departments, roughly 6 percent of the law enforcement agencies, reported a killing by an officer or private citizen considered justifiable. The federal data do not record how often police face criminal consequences for using deadly force. A police killing that is deemed a murder presumably is just included among the jurisdiction's other criminal killings.

The Aug. 9 fatal shooting of Michael Brown, who is black, by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, who is white, ignited not only racially charged protests but fresh questions about the frequency of police killings. The Police Foundation, a research group, is among those seeking answers. “The lack of data is a real problem. It leaves a tremendous void in the evidence that surrounds this public discussion of police use of force,” said foundation president Jim Bueermann. “And in a void, people fill that with their own narrative based on their own experiences.” He said, “We're all entitled to opinions but not (our own) facts. That's important in policy and legislative decision-making … when we ultimately fix that situation, we may discover police use less force than we think they do, or more, and we may discover police are assaulted more often.” In 1994, Congress told the attorney general to “acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.” The International Association of Police Chiefs was asked to gather the information. Its last report dates to 2001, the last year for which federal funding was available.

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