There is no national record on the use of police force against American citizens nationwide, even though private police groups and the FBI keep a close watch on the number of cops killed and assaulted on the job, reports Radley Balko at The Huffington Post.
A New York Times article from 2001 cited by Balko states that although an early ’90s law requires the Justice Department to gather and report on the use of force by police, individual departments are not required to report data they themselves have collected. A decade later, a Las Vegas paper that attempted to get at the figures described the same situation:
“We don’t have a mandate to do that,” said William Carr, a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which collects crime data from every corner of the country. ....
“It would take a request from Congress for us to collect that data,” said Mr. Carr of the FBI, adding that budgetary constraints would likely prevent the collection of detailed data on police shootings.
That’s a red herring. Police already track everything from domestic violence to child abuse to murder, and police routinely lobby state and federal lawmakers to put new crimes into statute.
Balko guesses that a bill proposing the collection of such data would be “aggressively opposed” by the public safety lobby, just as most efforts to make police activities more transparent have been, and that Congress wouldn’t be likely to put up a fight.
The same problem exists with data on any other police use of force—it simply doesn’t exist. I’ve tried to accumulate official data on the way police departments use their SWAT teams and similar paramilitary police units—how often they’re deployed, for what reasons, how many times they raid the wrong address, and so on. Not only does that data not exist at the national level, only Maryland requires police departments to report it at the state level. (And that Maryland law—passed after the botched police raid on Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo—was opposed by every police agency and interest group in the state.)
And so as the federal government continues to give local police agencies military guns and vehicles, grants to buy more military guns and vehicles, grants to start SWAT teams and tactical task forces, and grants to hire more cops, the feds really make no effort to see what sort of effect all of that is having on how and how often police use force and violence against American citizens.
The net result of all of this is a one-way flow of information that probably colors the way we think about the relationship between police and the communities they serve. When we get comprehensive data each year about the cops who were killed and assaulted in the line of duty over the last 12 months, but no data on how many people were killed and assaulted by police—justifiably or not—over the same period, it bends the debate toward more support for giving cops more power, more weapons, and more authority.