Attorney General Lynch:Use-of-Force Data is Vital for Transparency and Accountability
Today, in a press conference held at the Department of Justice, Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch reinforced the need for national, consistent data on law enforcement interactions with the communities they serve, especially data collection on the use-of-force. The Attorney General noted that the department has already taken steps to improve the accuracy and consistency of use-of-force data from law enforcement.
“The department’s position and the administration’s position has consistently been that we need to have national, consistent data,” said Attorney General Lynch. “This information is useful because it helps us see trends, it helps us promote accountability and transparency,” said Attorney General Lynch. “We’re also going further in developing standards for publishing information about deaths in custody as well, because transparency and accountability are helped by this kind of national data.”
Currently, federal authorities publish annual figures on the number of “justifiable homicides” by law enforcement. But this reporting is voluntary and not all police departments participate, causing the figures to be incomplete. That’s why the Justice Department and the Obama Administration are taking steps to work with law enforcement to improve the process.
“This data is not only vital – we are working closely with law enforcement to develop national consistent standards for collecting this kind of information,” Attorney General Lynch added.
The department has already taken steps to improve accurate accounts of use-of-force data from law enforcement:
The Bureau of Justice Statistic (BJS) and the FBI are collaborating with major policing organizations, such as the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the Major Cities Chiefs of Police Association (MCCA), the Major County Sheriffs Association (MCSA) on defining data collections on police use-of-force and homicides by law enforcement officers.
The department also requires the records of police interactions when we enter into consent decree and collaborative reform agreements.
The FBI recently announced that the Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics (UCR) will begin to collect data on non-fatal shootings between law enforcement and civilians.
BJS has been conducting work on new methods for not only identifying deaths in police custody (as defined by the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act (PL 113-242), where they will go further than what the newspapers and media reports on law enforcement homicides that are derived from open source records verifying that the media accounts are correct and complete.BJS will do this by surveying police departments, medical examiners’ offices and investigative offices about the reports that it identifies from open source and using data from the multiple source to obtain a more accurate factual account of each incident.BJS will complete its methodology study by late 2015/early 2016 and then begin to stand up a national program on arrest related deaths.
The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing and the President’s Police Data Initiative also seek to encourage better data and record keeping for local law enforcement reinforces the administration’s position on this need.
Excerpts from the Attorney General’s Press Conference:
ATTORNEY GENERAL LYNCH: [L]et me be clear: police shootings are not minutiae at all and the department’s position and the administration’s position has consistently been that we need to have national, consistent data. Both on excessive force and on officer involved shootings is vital. The point I was trying to make at that conference related to our overall view of how we deal with police departments as part of our practice of enforcing consent decrees, or working with them and I was trying to make the point that we also have to focus on building community trust which is a very individual – very local – practice. Unfortunately, my comments gave the misperception that we were changing our view in some way about the importance of this data – nothing could be further from the truth. This data is not only vital – we are working closely with law enforcement to develop national consistent standards for collecting this kind of information.
ATTORNEY GENERAL LYNCH: [W]e do require it [data collection]. When we have consent decrees with departments and frankly we find it very, very useful as we look at data and trends and as we publish consent decrees we encourage other departments to do so. And frankly police departments also are finding it useful. Certainly the fact that we don’t have a nationwide, consistent set of standards is – not only does it make our job difficult it makes it hard to see these trends and that’s why it is so important to focus on these. And that’s why we are working through the department’s research arm – our Bureau of Justice Statistics and the FBI – are working with the leading police organizations; International Association of Chiefs of Police; Major Cities Chiefs; Major Counties Sheriffs; to look at these standards. And we’re also going further in developing standards for publishing information about deaths in custody as well; because transparency and accountability are helped by this kind of national data.