How many people do police shoot and kill every year? What are the circumstances? How many officers are held accountable? Are black people more likely to be killed than whites?
The Deaths in Custody Reporting Act (DICRA) was passed in 2000, and was supposed to give us the answers to those and many other questions. The law stipulated that each of our nation’s 18,000 police agencies would report death in custody statistics to the Department of Justice or face a 10% cut in funding.
But that never happened. The law lapsed in 2006 and was reauthorized in 2014. Now the DOJ has finally come out with the rules guiding law enforcement on how to collect and report the data the law requires them to collect.
But here’s the thing: the rules give local police a pass, and instead shifts the responsibility for collecting the data to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (which is part of the DOJ). But wait, it gets even worse: BJS will rely on “publicly available information”(ie, the media and the internet) to collect this data. This vital law enforcement function is being crowd-sourced. We will be dependent on the Guardian and the Washington Post for statistics on who is being killed by police. But we can’t hold them accountable to ensure they will continue collecting the data, or that they will do it responsibly (although they are currently doing a much better job than the FBI).
Last year, Director Comey told law enforcement officials that it “ is unacceptable that The Washington Post and the Guardian newspaper from the U.K. are becoming the lead source of information about violent encounters between police and civilians. That is not good for anybody.”
We agree, as do over 100 other civil society organizations who submitted comments criticizing the DOJ’s proposed rules (see those comments below). In addition to our concerns over lack of accountability for state and local police, our comments point to another glaring hole in the DOJ rules: there is no guidance for federal law enforcement agencies to report deaths at the hands of FBI of ICE or any other federal law enforcement agency.
DOJ has to go back to the drawing board and come up with some clear rules for law enforcement at all levels to take responsibility for reporting who it is they are killing. As Director Comey said, “It’s ridiculous — it’s embarrassing and ridiculous…”