Wednesday, December 09, 2015

FBI to Expand Tracking of Violent Police Encounters

Last night the Washington Post reported that the FBI will be expanding its system for tracking violent police encounters. In response to what the FBI called “a real human outcry,” the data collection will expand from tracking fatal incidents to tracking “any incident in which an officer causes serious injury or death to civilians.”

The FBI is also taking steps to address the unreliability of current data collection. In the past, the FBI has “rel[ied] on local police departments to voluntarily share information about officer-involved shootings,” but less than 3% of state and local police agencies have opted into sharing. Following the lead of the Washington Post and Guardian databases, which aggregate and report data in real time using crowdsourcing, the FBI stated that it will start collecting and sharing the data publicly in “near real-time” as incidents occur. However, the new system will continue to rely on police voluntarily providing the information, though this time the FBI says that local law enforcement has agreed to cooperate.

The FBI isn’t the only federal bureau reworking its data collection processes as they relate to officer-involved shootings and other violent encounters. As it so happens, yesterday I came across this report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) that takes a critical look at the BJS “Arrest-Related Deaths” (ARD) program. By its own estimate, the BJS data collection, which also relied on voluntary participation by police, captured less than half of arrest-related deaths that occurred 2003-2010 and 2011 (2010 data was not available “due to a shift in data collection methodology between 2009 and 2011”). Without providing specifics, the report stated, “BJS has begun to explore the use of open-source data to identify arrest-related deaths in conjunction with a direct survey of law enforcement.” Like the FBI, BJS seems to be following the Washington Post and Guardian’s leads, but with a different angle, by using open-source data.

With all the movement around officer-involved shooting data collection, I've started a list of what you can find and where. This list is just a start and I’ll add sources as I learn about them. If you know of sources I am missing, please say so in the comments or reach out to me at

One more thing – a note on language. A lot of different terms are being used to describe the data that is being collected (“arrest-related death,” “officer-involved shooting,” etc.). This is largely because of variance in the different data collections, but beyond that it’s because there hasn’t been a systematic examination of what should be collected and relatedly, what to call that dataset. Below I try to be clear about what information is being captured by each collection. Eventually, experts will need to take a critical look at what we’re collecting and the terms we are using to describe the data so we can approach conversations with a shared understanding of what we’re all talking about.

Crowdsourced Datasets

The Counted: People killed by the Police in the US. Uses crowdsourced data to provide a real-time record of people killed by the police. Dataset began Jan. 1, 2015.

The Washington Post database. Uses local news reports, independent databases and additional reporting to provide a real-time record of people shot and killed by the police. Dataset began Jan. 1, 2015.

Fatal Encounters. Uses researchers, public records requests, and crowdsourced data to provide a database of people killed by the police since Jan. 1, 2000. The website considers 2013 and 2014 to be complete datasets.

Killed by the Police. Uses news reports to provide a real-time record of people killed by the police since May 1, 2013.

Data Collected from Government Sources

BJS Arrest-Related Deaths. Uses data voluntarily submitted by law enforcement to report annually on arrest-related deaths. Collection was suspended in March 2014.

FBI Uniform Crime Reporting. Uses data voluntarily submitted by law enforcement in the Supplementary Homicide Report to report on “justifiable homicide,” which is defined as “the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.” (Author’s note: Assigning this definition to the term “justifiable homicide” is hugely problematic if we’re trying to increase police accountability.)

Police Foundation’s Public Safety Open Data Portal. Uses data submitted by law enforcement agencies participating in the White House’s Police Data Initiative to make available datasets on officer-involved shootings and other police activity. 27 agencies are currently participating, including the Austin and Dallas Police Departments.

Texas Database of Officer-Involved Shootings. Uses data submitted by law enforcement agencies to the Office of the Attorney General to create a dataset of officer-involved shootings.  Dataset began Sept. 1, 2015.


Gunny Thompson said...

The data is ineffective if the proposed format does not include the names of the shooter and victim. The recent Texas policy is an example of an ineffective policy.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

True that on the policy, Gunny, but n.b. that Amanda has hunted down the victim names on most of them from other sources. Her database contains information from more sources than just the AG reports.