As the highly controversial deaths of black people at the hands of American law enforcement officers has crept into our public discourse this decade, so too has the revelation that no federal agency maintains statistics on killings by police officers, prompting The Guardian — a UK-based newspaper — to launch The Counted, a project to piece together a national picture of death-by-cop from the fragmentary evidence of press reports and open records requests.
A year later, the DoJ has announced that it will begin gathering statistics on every police-officer-involved death in the country — finally. Official estimates put the number of US arrest-related deaths at 2,100. The DoJ's new program will cross-check police departments' self-reporting against coroners' reports and news reporting and document demographic information for each person killed, as well as whether they were armed and how the encounter began.
The new system is being overseen by the department's bureau of justice statistics (BJS). It would, like the Guardian's, document deaths caused by physical force, Taser shocks and some vehicle crashes caused by law enforcement in addition to fatal shootings by officers. A Washington Post tally counts fatal shootings by police.
In their Federal Register article, officials cited their authority under the death in custody reporting act – a law that states local departments must report all deaths in custody to the justice department or lose 10% of their federal funding. The law has been largely ignored since being reauthorized in December 2014.
The BJS carried out a trial of its new system that monitored deaths between 1 June and 31 August last year. Officials working on the pilot program cited The Counted as an influence on the initiative and a source for its information.
Agency Information Collection Activities; Proposed Collection Comments Requested; New collection: Arrest-Related Deaths Program
[US Department of Justice/Federal Register]
Police will be required to report officer-involved deaths under new US system
[Jon Swaine/The Guardian]
(Image: Memorial to Michael Brown, Jamelle Bouie, CC-BY)