The federal government just announced they are starting a national database that will track when law enforcement officers use deadly force, as reported by the Associated Press. The point? To give more transparency. Because as we all know, police brutality and violence can be all too common, especially with marginalized identities.
The database, which launches this coming January, aims to record gender, age, and ethnicity, along with the obvious details of when a death or serious bodily injury occurs. It’ ll also track when a cop discharges their firearm in the direction of, or at, someone.
One significant limitation to this database is that police departments are not actually required to report incidents at the federal level. As reported by the Associated Press, mid-size and larger agencies are most likely to provide the data. For perspective, about 11,000 agencies (out of 18,000 across the country) provide information to a related FBI database as it is.
Overall, there isn’t great data currently available on how many people are shot and killed by police each year, or how many people face police brutality. Incomplete data is a big deal because it makes it doubly difficult to cite and prove bias in police violence.
The lack of data makes it harder to show trends in deadly force (such as how it varies based on gender or local population size). It even makes comparisons difficult; we all know police brutality is a huge issue here in the United States, but without concrete numbers, it’ s hard to know precisely how far we are from other countries.
Some organizations have attempted to track the data themselves. The Washington Post, for example, does track the number people shot and killed by police each year. In 2017, continuing a trend, nearly 1,000 people were shot and killed by police across the nation. The Police Violence Report also tracks deaths by police, though it goes beyond shootings and includes physical force, tasers, and police vehicles, among others. The Guardian, too, tracks how many people are killed by police each year in the U.S.
So while people who want more accountability and transparency from police have clear interest in a national database, what motivation do police have? Rick Myers, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association explains:
“The whole point of having a national database is so everyone can speak from a factual basis about what’s really happening. 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.”
So basically, they’re hoping it will dispell the idea that police violence is a rampant problem. Which is…Interesting, to say the least. Either way, the more data that is reported, the better. People—and especially people of color, homeless populations, sex workers, and others who are disproportionately targeted by police—deserve accountability. And answers.