The Department Of Justice Is Beginning To Collect Data On Police Violence…But Will It Make A Difference?

5 months ago Matthew Taylor 0

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According to a Department of Justice press release, police departments will now be asked to report every violent interaction between their officers and civilians to the feds. This will begin with an FBI pilot data collection program early next year. In the meantime, “[t]he FBI is seeking comment from all interested parties, including local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement, civil rights organizations and other community stakeholders.” So if you have input, now is your chance to send it along.

This has been a long time coming…frankly, it’s baffling that there remains an opportunity for data collection that our surveillance-obsessed federal bureaucracy hasn’t yet capitalized on. Except—depending how cynical you are—it also makes perfect sense that a system whose resources are largely devoted to gathering information on anyone considered deviant or potentially subversive would be far less concerned with hard data on police brutality. This violence, after all, is often state-sanctioned and usually directed toward those who are already on the periphery by way of race, gender, politics, or some intersection thereof.

It could be argued that violent interactions are less critically important than interactions that result in a death…but a database for fatal encounters was only mandated by Congress in 2014. The fatal encounter project penalizes departments that don’t comply or are caught skewing data by imposing a fine on them. The new data project, however, is essentially voluntary. There are neither rewards for participating nor punitive measures for declining to do so.

Essentially, it’s asking police departments to operate on the honor system, which is laughable. If you’ve been beating the hell out of too many civilians, please let us know isn’t exactly a strong statement against police brutality by the Department of Justice.

As Alan Pyke at ThinkProgress writes, “Police agencies will have little incentive — beyond their own sense of ethics — to share full, honest numbers on how often their cops use violence to subdue citizens. The voluntary nature of the system leaves wiggle room for agencies to hold back numbers on unjustified violence while sharing only the numbers that make them look good.

Agencies’ freedom to spin their reputations through data they generate and control is endemic to almost any effort to catalog police violence. Even the older police killings data collection effort has fallen prey to these deficiencies, as a coalition of 96 different organizations noted in criticisms of that project earlier this month.”

Is the federal government going to make a sincere effort to combat the rampant police violence that has become a trademark of the USA? Other countries have unequivocally condemned it, and it flies in the face of the “protect and serve” mission statement originated by the LAPD and adopted by many other departments since.

Civil Rights Division head Vanita Gupta suggested that authentic attempts are being made to change these systemic travesties of justice. In a speech at Howard University on Friday, she acknowledged that many of our citizens doubt whether “our public institutions still answer to the people they serve.” She went on to say that “our goal is not minor change but lasting, comprehensive reform that transforms relations between police and communities.  And – not overnight, but over time – to change culture.  As others have said, ‘culture eats policy for lunch.'”

Sure, but while we tap our fingers in anticipation of this cultural shift, some rigid policy wouldn’t hurt, especially if it might save lives and punish police who now kill with impunity. As it stands, the Department of Justice’s latest move is more empty gesture than courageous stance. Whether it will move beyond the realm of lip service remains to be seen.

We are a new blog intelligently reporting and analyzing current events through a leftist lens. We are trying to combat the digital media trends of clickbait and reporting with no substance. If you like what you see here, please like us on Facebook.