Promising information that is more standardized and complete than has previously been available, Attorney General Loretta Lynch says the Department of Justice will collect data on the police use of deadly force in the line of duty.
Lynch's announcement amplifies a statement by FBI Director James Comey at the end of September, when he told a congressional panel that the bureau is in the process of setting up a database that can track police killings and other use of force during interactions with the public.
The Justice Department plans to have a pilot program collecting data in early 2017.
"Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations," Lynch said today. "The initiatives we are announcing today are vital efforts toward increasing transparency and building trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve."
In addition to collecting data, the FBI's pilot program will study the methodology used to collect that information. The agency's announcement of the pilot program also calls for public comment — "from all interested parties, including local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement, civil rights organizations and other community stakeholders."
A lack of a national database became a sticking point in recent years, particularly after a string of high-profile cases in which unarmed black men died at the hands of police. Attempts to fill that void have included the website Fatal Encounters, as well as a Washington Post database that tracks how many people are shot and killed by police. So far in 2016, the Post reports that law enforcement officers have killed 754 people.
According to the FBI, "The pilot study participants are expected to include the largest law enforcement agencies, as well as the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Administration and U.S. Marshals Service."
The push for collecting such data has also brought legislative action. From the Justice Department announcement:
"In 2014, Congress passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA), which required states and federal law enforcement agencies to submit data to the department about civilians who died during interactions with law enforcement or in their custody (whether resulting from use of force or some other manner of death, such as suicide or natural causes) and authorized the Attorney General to impose a financial penalty on non-compliant states."
Noting that the law doesn't require the collection of nonlethal force, the Justice Department says it will also work to amass that data.