TIME justice

Justice Department to Study How Often Police Use Force

U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks during a town hall at Howard University October 5, 2016 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong—Getty Images U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch speaks during a town hall at Howard University October 5, 2016 in Washington, DC.

The federal government plans to launch a national online database to begin tracking how and when law enforcement officials use force in their interactions with civilians, even when those interactions do not lead to death. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch will discuss the announcement at an event at Georgetown University on Thursday evening.

Senior justice department officials say the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s data-collection pilot program, known as the National Use of Force Data Collection, is expected to begin early next year. The bureau is currently seeking input on the pilot program from local officials and civil rights organizations. The Justice Department plans to reach out to the largest law enforcement agencies; the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the U.S. Marshall Service to join the pilot study data from which will be used to evaluate the program’s effectiveness. At this point, however, the Justice Department has not reached out to any agencies and inclusion in the pilot program will be voluntary.

Officials say the FBI has been working with local, state, and federal officials to develop the database as an effort to close a gap in data collection that formed as the result of a 2014 law. Though the Death in Custody Reporting Act mandates agencies to record and report in-custody deaths to the federal government—and gives the Attorney General the power to enforce penalties when agencies do not comply—it does not require data collection on non-fatal incidents. Because of that, the Department will launch an online portal through which agencies will be able to submit data on use-of-force.

Senior Justice Department officials say improving data collection will help inform policy making so we can better understand what’s happening, target policy making, and ultimately reduce the number of lethal force incidents. The department is billing the announcement, and others expected on Thursday , as efforts to improve law enforcement transparency, an issue that took on new life in the wake of the deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Freddie Gray in Baltimore and the subsequent protests that were ignited from the deaths of black men and women at the hands of police. A recommendation from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which was formed in an effort to address issues brought forward by protestors and activists, was the increased collection of data on “on all officer involved shootings, whether fatal or nonfatal, as well as any in-custody death.”

A senior Justice official said Thursday the FBI’s portal would also call for recordings of when firearms discharged at or in the direction of a person in police custody.

The Department of Justice also expects to begin receiving data on in-custody deaths. Under the Death in Custody Act, federal agencies were required to submit data on in-custody deaths starting at the close of fiscal year 2016, which ended on Sept. 30. Lynch is expected to expand on these initiatives during an Exit Interview event hosted by Georgetown University.

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