Congressman Cohen: FBI Director Is Right, Police Departments Should Have to Report Police Shootings
Without adequate, comprehensive national data on fatal police interactions exists, abuses are difficult to identify and fix
[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) applauded FBI Director James Comey for stating in a speech this morning that it is “ridiculous that [he] can’t tell you how many people were shot by the police last week, last month, last year.” In the same speech, Director Comey suggested that police departments nationwide should be required to report shootings that involve police officers so that these numbers can be tracked. Congressman Cohen introduced his National Statistics on Deadly Force Transparency Act (H.R.306) last month to do just and more. His legislation would close a loophole in federal law that prevents adequate collection of comprehensive national data regarding justified and unjustified fatal interactions with police.
“FBI Director Comey is exactly right: it is ridiculous that we can’t tell the American people how many lives were ended by police officers this year, or any year,” said Congressman Cohen. “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. That is why I introduced the National Statistics on Deadly Force Act; 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, I look forward to working with Director Comey to bring accountability and transparency to policing in America, and I commend him for addressing this issue.”
Without accurate and comprehensive data, racial disparities, abuses, and instances of excessive use of force are difficult to identify and unlikely to be fixed. 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, which has 8 cosponsors, 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.