Law Enforcement Leaders Seek Police Shooting Data; Will Anyone Collect It?


The murder charges filed against a South Carolina police officer for killing a man after a traffic stop raised the issue again about why there are no national data on officers’ firing their weapons, says the New York Times. After police officers used lethal force in Staten Island, Ferguson, Mo., and elsewhere last year, Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI director James Comey strongly advocated changing reporting requirements. So far, those efforts have not provoked much interest on Capitol Hill. In 1994, Congress passed a law that was intended to help the Justice Department collect better statistics about shootings involving officers, but the law was not effective because the reporting was optional.

Comey said the police chief of a major city who said that he did not know whether the Ferguson police “shot one person a week, one a year or one a century.” In the absence of good data, Comey said the chief told him, “all we get are ideological thunderbolts, when what we need are ideological agnostics who use information to try to solve problems.” Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum said it was important to track the use of force in general to determine when officers chose less lethal options such as stun guns and when they calmed tense situations and avoided using force altogether. He said that while many police chiefs may not immediately like the public scrutiny that would come from shooting figures, it would help officials identify trends and see how other departments handled similar situations.

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