How big of a problem is police brutality? DOJ doesn’t know

by Erin Dunne, November 15, 2018 05:46 PM

In 2014, a 12-year-old boy was shot dead in Cleveland by a police officer. Before the officers arrived at the scene, they received a dispatch call about someone pointing “a pistol,” that the caller noted was “probably fake,” at random people at a recreation center. Just seconds after arriving, police shot him. The boy, Tamir Rice, took a fatal shot to the torso. The “gun” that officers saw was an Airsoft replica.

That deadly police encounter along with many, many others were the catalyst for a new report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, “ Police Use of Force: An Examination of Modern Policing Practices,” released Thursday. Among the many findings and recommendations laid out in the report, one of the easiest to enact should be actually gathering and maintaining government data on police use of force.

As the report puts it, “Accurate and comprehensive data regarding police uses of force is generally not available to police departments or the American public. No comprehensive national database exists that captures police use of force.”

Although Congress requires the Department of Justice to collect these data and produce an annual report, local police departments aren’t required to submit their data to DOJ. Without that requirement, most police departments “only selectively report data.” Other departments submit nothing to DOJ.

That means that the federal government doesn’t even know how big the problem of excessive police use of force is, making it difficult, if not impossible, to craft and measure effective solutions.

Without that information, lawmakers and the public are left in the dark about the reality of force used in police encounters fueling distrust and anger within communities. Lack of community support means that police have an even more difficult time doing their job, ultimately making communities less safe.

As the report notes, one way to address this lack of information would be by tying federal law enforcement funds for local police departments to reporting use-of-force data to DOJ. With that information in hand, DOJ should make it available to the public on a searchable database. Additionally, to further compel compliance, DOJ should make public the departments that fail to produce data.

Tamir Rice’s death and others have rightly galvanized public outrage. Communities, and eventually the government, as evidenced by the commissioning of this report, were able to respond because they knew about it.

Although progress has been slow and police brutality persists, if Washington is serious about fixing this deadly problem, Congress must step up to enforce reporting and publicizing of accurate data on police use of force.

Erin Dunne, November 15, 2018, washington examiner, “How big of a problem is police brutality? DOJ doesn’t know”, https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/how-big-of-a-problem-is-police-brutality-doj-doesnt-know

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