According to the Associated Press, the federal government will roll out a national database that will keep track of when law enforcement officers use deadly force. In doing so, the intent is provide more transparency about these encounters, as they continue to remain commonplace.
The FBI national database, announced recently and being launched in January, will catalog incidents in which a death or serious bodily injury occurs, or when officers discharge a firearm at or in the direction of someone. It also will track gender, age, ethnicity and other demographic information.
For years there have been calls for such a database, as it’s not exactly a secret that people of color—and specifically those of African-American decent—have bore the brunt of police violence. But the onus has always fallen on news organizations such as Mapping Police Violence, the Washington Post, or Fatal Encounters to keep tally.
The FBI’s national database, however, will have limitations—as police departments are not required to report these encounters to the national database.
Seth Stoughton, an associate law professor at the University of South Carolina, summed it up pretty well: “It strikes me as sort of crazy that in a modern, First World country that prioritizes democratic freedoms the way that the United States does, we don’t have the basic information that we need to have to discuss a fairly important issue of officers taking civilians’ lives.”
Especially when there are an estimated 1,000 people killed in altercations with police annually.
However, of the estimated 60 million encounters between police officers and civilians every year, police estimate that less than 5 percent of those arrests involve use of force. As such, their hope is that this database will “dispel the notion that fatal encounters and inappropriate use of force are rampant”.
“The whole point of having a national database is so everyone can speak from a factual basis about what’s really happening,” said Rick Myers, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “There’s so much news today about police use of force and yet there has never been a factual, established database against which to compare. If you listen to the national narrative of the police use of force, you’d think it was much higher than that.”
But if the police have nothing to hide, then why isn’t the provision of data of said encounters not mandatory?
Former police officer John Bostain, who now travels the country training law enforcement agencies, hopes more agencies throughout the country will participate. As, according to him, “the national debate makes it especially imperative to participate”.
“Law enforcement was slow on the uptake. I don’t think law enforcement realized we could’ve gotten out front of this narrative,” Bostain said.