Finally, the U.S. Justice Department is coming up with a much-needed program that might help end years of controversy around the use of force by police and hold individual officers accountable for their actions during an arrest.
The announcement of the new system comes after a series of officer-involved shooting deaths resulted in protests in cities across the country, especially over the past two years.
Currently, there is no official government system that tracks deaths involving or caused by police officers.
There was one called the Arrest-Related Deaths program from 2003, which was “the only national data collection” of arrest-related deaths in the country. According to the Justice Department, it didn’t prove useful “because of concerns about variations in data collection methodology and coverage.”
A separate count of fatal police shootings by the FBI was even less helpful since its recorded figures were found to be far less than the actual numbers.
The Guardian found last year in March that the police killed “more than twice as many people as reported by U.S. government.” A separate investigation by The Washington Post, which analyzed “more than a dozen details about each” fatal police shooting in 2015, revealed nearly 1,000 people were shot to death by cops that year — a number that was more than double the average annual number reported by the FBI.
But these discrepancies between independent and government data might reduce under the new system. Police departments will be required to submit quarterly reports to the DOJ, with complete details of fatal incidents involving their officers.
“The redesigned methodology includes a standardized mixed method, hybrid approach relying on open sources to identify eligible cases, followed by data requests from law enforcement and medical examiner/coroner offices for incident-specific information about the decedent and circumstances surrounding the event,” the DOJ added.
While it’s too soon to say if the proposed program will have any effect on the oft-reported use of excessive force by cops, which has spurred ever-growing anger and pushback from groups like Black Lives Matter, it will at least provide official government numbers to help determine exactly how many people lose their lives during violent encounters with the police.