Crime

New System Tracks How Many People The Police Killed

| by Robert Fowler

A newly revamped system by the Department of Justice designed to track instances of members of U.S. law enforcement killing civilians has turned up twice the number of homicides committed by police than previous estimates made by the FBI.

On Dec. 15, the Bureau of Justice Statistics released the results of its trial program that examined instances of civilian deaths related to law enforcement from June to August 2015.

The results turned up 270 homicides committed by police officers during that time, whereas the FBI had only recorded 442 homicides by law enforcement in the entirety of 2015, The Guardian reports.

Extrapolating the BJS findings from those three months in 2015, the rate of homicides committed by law enforcement would have been 1,080. The report highlights how the FBI may have recorded less than one-half of the actual number of killings committed by police in 2015.

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The BJS trial program attempted to innovate how the government tracks instances of civilian deaths while in police custody. Currently, the FBI tracks these incidents only through voluntary reports submitted by local police chiefs.

Following controversy of the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, both the FBI and DOJ have pledged to install more effective tracking systems to provide a clearer picture of how many civilians are killed by police officers and what can be done about it.

In September, FBI Director James Comey revealed the bureau was designing a national database to record instances of officers using deadly force on civilians. Comey asserted that until the database was established, any national discussion on police brutality would be uninformed and based on anecdotal evidence, with viral videos of police shooting unarmed civilians shaping public opinion, according to CBS News.

"Everybody gets why it matters," Comey said of the database.

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In October, Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the DOJ would also create a database to track instances of law enforcement using deadly force, with a pilot program set to begin collecting data in January 2017, NPR reports.

"Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to and informed discussion about community-police relations," Lynch said. "The initiatives we are announcing today are vital efforts toward increasing transparency and building trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve."

Duren Banks, the leading statistician for the BJS program, said the trial had been successful in finding new methods to more accurately record instances of law enforcement killings nationwide.

"We really went back to the drawing board to see what was working and what wasn't, and to try to get a more comprehensive count of arrest-related deaths in the United States," Banks said.

Sources: CBS NewsThe Guardian, NPR / Photo credit: Washington State House Republicans/Flickr

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