Use-of-Force Data Collection May Cease Due to Lack of LE Participation

Over the last  few years, strain between police and the community has intensified greatly as incidents have come to light showing hostility between the police and the communities. However, when it comes to really understanding how often these types of events occur, there is no official number of the number of people killed by police annually.  Still, unreliable government numbers fail to portray the true scope of officer-involved shootings and fatalities. The National Use-of-Force Data Collection is the first national-level dataset to offer big-picture insights on police use of force, but participation has been quite low. In fact, law enforcement participation in the national data collection has been so low that it could cause the database to shut down.

The lack of data available regarding police uses of force inhibits the ability to study police misconduct more generally, as well as the degree to which officers are held accountable. At present, some of the most comprehensive databases on the subject are open-source and collated by independent researchers based on information from news reports, department websites, and public records requests. Four major non-governmental, open-source databases on police killings include “Fatal Force,” “The Counted,” “Mapping Police Violence,” and “Fatal Encounters.” However, the data sources vary in where and how they collect their data, which makes it difficult to know which one is the most accurate.

As stated, above, the National Use of Force Data Collection was the first attempt by the federal government to collect data on police use of force at a national level. As part of the project, a team of experts worked to develop universal agreement regarding what type of data should be collected and how it should be measured, with data collection beginning on January 1, 2019. The data collected includes information on law enforcement uses of force and basic information on the circumstances, subjects, and officers involved in these incidents, but it does not assess whether officers followed their department’s policy or acted lawfully.

Unfortunately, participation in the data collection has remained quite low, to the point where the FBI is contemplating getting rid of the program. As of September 2021, 7,559 out of 18,514 (about 41%) federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies throughout the nation had participated and provided use-of-force data.

According to a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report:

“Due to insufficient participation from law enforcement agencies, the FBI faces risks that it may not meet the participation thresholds established in Office of Management and Budget’s (OMB) terms of clearance for publishing data from the National Use-of-Force Data Collection, and therefore may never publish use of force incident data from the collection. Further, the collection itself may be discontinued as soon as the end of 2022.”

In sum, higher-quality data is needed to guide this important issue that continues to divide the country. At this time, it is hard to get an accurate big-picture look regarding police use of force in the United States. While the initial implementation of the FBI use-of-force data collection program seemed promising, it unfortunately has not taken off in the way that we hoped. Further, if the FBI eliminates the program, this problem will not be resolved any time soon.

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