Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Congressman Cohen Bill Would Prevent Police Abuses from Being Swept Under the Rug

January 13, 2015
Press Release

Congressman will also introduce legislation requiring police shootings to be prosecuted by independent agency

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) today reintroduced his National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act, which would close a loophole in federal law that prevents adequate collection of comprehensive national data regarding justified and unjustified fatal interactions with police. Without accurate and comprehensive data, racial disparities, abuses, and instances of excessive use of force are difficult to identify and unlikely to be fixed.

“Before we can truly address the problem of excessive force used by law enforcement we have to understand the nature of the problem and that begins with accurate data,” said Congressman Cohen. “I am introducing this bill so that our country can do a better job of honestly assessing racial disparities and other problems in our justice system and begin to fix them. It is a step in the right direction and a critical component of the healing process.”

The 1994 Crime Bill requires the Attorney General to collect statistics on the use of excessive force, but the law does not provide any enforcement mechanism nor does it adequately define what “excessive force” is. As a result, the federal government has been unable to gather data from many local police departments and there are no reliable statistics on how often law enforcement uses deadly force. Congressman Cohen’s legislation would incentivize states to require local law enforcement agencies to provide data to the Attorney General on:

  • The date of each instance when deadly force was used;
  • The identifying characteristics of the victim and officer involved, including the race, gender, ethnicity, religion and approximate age of the victim;
  • Any alleged criminal behavior by the victim;
  • An explanation, if any, by the relevant law enforcement agency of why deadly force was used;
  • A copy of any use of deadly force guidelines in effect at the time at the law enforcement agency;
  • The nature of the deadly force used, including whether it involved a firearm; and
  • A description of any non-lethal efforts that were taken before deadly force was used.

This data would be made publicly available, but would not disclose any personally identifying information. Congressman Cohen also plans to introduce legislation this year that would require incidents of deadly force used by police to be investigated and, if need be, prosecuted, by an independent actor. Currently, these cases are rarely prosecuted effectively due to an obvious conflict of interest between local police and the prosecuting District Attorney, who relies on a close working relationship with those same police officers to carry out other prosecutorial duties.