US to start collecting data on use of force by local police

FBI Director James Comey said that a dearth of federal government data on use of force by police was "embarrassing and ridiculous."

(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
In this Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015, file photo, FBI Director James Comey listens to a question from the media during a news conference at the FBI offices in Cincinnati. Three federal cyberstalking cases that surfaced within a few days of each other in the Cincinnati area have underscored widening challenges in protecting susceptible youths from wily predators. The three men charged all were linked to multiple girls or young women they are accused of pressuring into providing sexually explicit images and threatening with vengeful acts.

The U.S. Department of Justice next year will resume tracking citizens' formal complaints about the use of force by police officers as part of the nation's most comprehensive survey of law enforcement agencies.

The change comes as demands mount for more scrutiny of police altercations with civilians, following public outrage over the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, New York and elsewhere.

FBI Director James Comey told a private gathering of politicians and police officers in October that a dearth of federal government data on use of force by police was "embarrassing and ridiculous."

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, which will administer next year's survey of law enforcement agencies, issued a report on Saturday that said household surveys showed black people were far more likely than white people to be subjected to non-fatal force in their most recent encounter with police.

The bureau, part of the Justice Department, said that from 2002 to 2011 black people were 2-1/2 times more likely than whites to experience such an encounter with police, a trend that largely held steady over the period.

On average, 715,500 U.S. residents per year reported such experiences, the bureau said.

The 2011 numbers in the bureau's study are the most recent data on public reports of police force, despite a 1994 law requiring the U.S. attorney general to publish an annual summary of data on excessive police force. The bureau is the only federal agency that collects data on police use of non-fatal force.

Chicago Police Department Superintendent Garry McCarthy said he sees a resumption of tallying citizen complaints as a "natural outgrowth" of efforts by the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama to improve policing services. "What gets measured gets done," he said.

Michael Wagers, chief operating officer of the Seattle Police Department, said: "There is going to be some concern that you'll be compared with other agencies... But if that does drive change in departments, that's a good thing."

Wagers said his department has been training officers to prevent violent confrontations since a 2011 federal investigation found Seattle police officers showed a pattern of using unconstitutional and excessive force.

The bureau said that part of the reason it had not asked police agencies about use-of-force complaints in so long was because the data from the last survey suffered from serious flaws, such as departments defining "force" in different ways, but that the questions would be improved for next year's survey. (Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Bill Rigby)

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