The Role of Reliable Data in Reducing Police Use of Force Incidents

In its 1968 report on urban violence, the Kerner Commission — established by President Lyndon Johnson in the aftermath of the outbreak of civil unrest in America’s cities the year before — declared that minorities believed a “double standard” of justice and protection existed for whites and blacks.

Almost half a century later, tragic events across the country — in New York, Ferguson, North Charleston and Baltimore — have reminded us how critical trust is to the fabric of our democracy. These incidents have raised the public’s awareness and sparked a long overdue national debate about how police and citizens interact and how they should interact.

On Tuesday of this week, I was proud to join with California Senator Barbara Boxer to introduce the Police Reporting of Information, Data, and Evidence Act of 2015 (PRIDE Act), a critical data collection bill designed to advance public safety, strengthen police-community relations, protect communities and police officers, and foster mutual trust and respect.

Our nation was founded on these shared and timeless values: liberty and justice for all, and equal justice under law. The former was enshrined in our founding charter. The latter is etched in the marble of the Supreme Court building. But when any American feels that they have not been treated fairly by the forces in place to protect them, those values are undermined. That makes the issue of police and community relations a problem for us all — not just a specific city or a specific race.

“It’s hard to have a substantive debate, focused on specific solutions, without a foundation of accurate data.”
MSNBC

For too long, the way we’ve collected information and data from states and local governments on violent encounters between law enforcement and civilians has been inconsistent. Under current law, demographic data regarding officer-involved shootings is inconsistently reported to the FBI under the Uniform Crime Reporting Program. According to a recent study by the Washington Post, since 2011, less than three percent of the nation’s 18,000 state and local police agencies reported fatal shootings by their officers to the FBI. That is unacceptable. Incomplete and unreliable reporting makes it tougher to understand the true scope of the problem and more difficult to obtain a policy solution.

There is also no mandated federal reporting regarding law enforcement officers killed or injured in the line of duty. Each day, law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe. They routinely put their lives on the line for us in chaotic and often dangerous situations on the streets that do not escalate into uses of force. As the senseless killings of NYPD Officers Rafael Ramos and Wanjian Liu remind us, wearing the badge and uniform often places officers at the ultimate personal risk. We owe them our respect and gratitude. Police officers deserve to have the tools they need to do their jobs effectively and safely. That includes tracking the uses of force by civilians against our men and women in uniform.

“We simply must find ways to see each other more clearly. And part of that has to involve collecting and sharing better information about encounters between police and citizens, especially violent encounters.”
-James Comey, Director of the FBI

The PRIDE Act would increase accountability for law enforcement and citizens alike by creating a comprehensive national data collection program. It would require law enforcement at the state, local, and tribal levels to report to the FBI information regarding police-involved shootings and any incident in which use of force by or against a law enforcement officer or civilian results in serious injury or death. By making the voluntary reporting of uses of force by — and against — police officers mandatory, we ensure that more accountability and transparency will exist between the police and the citizens they protect.

This bill also includes grant funds for public awareness campaigns designed to collect information from the public on uses of force against police officers. As a former mayor, I have seen first-hand how helpful tip lines, hotlines, and public service announcements can be in helping law enforcement capture dangerous people. When someone uses violence against a member of law enforcement we must respond quickly. That means we should do all that we can to ensure that information on the suspect gets out to the public in a timely manner. That way, the offender can promptly be caught and brought to justice.

“The proposed legislation would see government officials collect information on the age, gender and race of anyone who was shot, injured, or killed in any way by [a] law enforcement officer.”
- The Guardian

Our legislation also includes grant funds for use of force training for law enforcement agencies and personnel, including de-escalation training. Officers deserve to receive the best and most up to date training we can offer. They must feel confident that they are trained to use force in a way that allows them to safely come home to their families. Equally, the public deserves to have confidence that when an officer uses force he or she does so appropriately. That means training officers to ensure that force is a last resort and officers know how to de-escalate a situation to avoid using force at all.

Many of the bill’s provisions include recommendations from President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which put forth a series of strategies aimed at rebuilding trust between the law enforcement officers and the communities they protect.

It is time we address the trust deficit between law enforcement and many communities across our country. It’s time that we come together and work to see each other clearly.

By increasing police, community, and government transparency and accountability, this bill will help us take the first step towards building trust and reducing violence.