The shooting of an unarmed teenager in Ferguson, Mo., has exposed what the Justice Department doesn't know about police use of force, McClatchy Newspapers reports. Federal officials don't know how many police shootings take place annually. They don't know how many citizens complaints get filed each year. Despite a 1994 congressional order, they don't tally annually the incidents of “excessive force” by police. “That's a clear, clear problem,” said Matthew Hickman, associate professor of criminal justice at Seattle University. “When it comes to use of force, we have almost nothing.”
Deadspin, an online sports news site, started a crowd-sourced database of police shootings. In the first five hours, data on 135 shooting incidents from the last several years had been entered. The International Association of Chiefs of Police started a police shooting database that has not been updated since 2001. “We need data to make decisions,” said criminologist Alex Piquero of the University of Texas at Dallas. “Data should be the underpinning for everything we do.” Researchers have sporadically tried in various ways to take a stab at police use of force. Surveys, which necessarily are incomplete, have been one tool. Every three years, “police-public contact survey” questions upward of 60,000 individuals. The last was done in 2011.