The FBI will launch a pilot project early next year to begin collecting use-of-force statistics nationwide and create the first online database of both deadly and nonfatal interactions the public has with law enforcement, the Washington Post reports. “Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch. Although Lynch can impose financial penalties on law enforcement agencies that fail to report data about civilians who died during interactions with authorities or in their custody, the Justice Department cannot require state and local agencies to report the far larger number of such situations that are not fatal. Participation in the new use-of-force program is voluntary.
The effort to create a comprehensive national use-of-force database follows a number of high-profile police shootings in the past two years of unarmed African Americans. They include 18-year-old Michael Brown, who was fatally shot in Ferguson, Mo., by a white police officer in 2014, and 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed in Cleveland by a white police officer, also in 2014. Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum said, “It’s really important to know why one area of the country might have more use-of-force incidents versus another or why one department compares to another. Until we have those official statistics, we’re working at a deficit.” Last year, the Post created a database of 991 fatal police shootings and published a series of articles that described trends found in the data. So far this year, the database shows that at least 754 people have been shot and killed by police. Over the past four decades, the FBI has never recorded more than 460 fatal shootings by police in a calendar year.