Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Woog: AG, Lege must improve police shootings data collection

Texas' new reporting requirements on police shootings should be tweaked during the Attorney General's rule making process and upgraded in the next legislative session "to penalize noncompliance, expand reporting and improve the public availability of the information," said Grits contributing writer Amanda Woog in a Dallas News opinion column today. She called on the AG to:
  • Revise the reporting forms so that law enforcement has clear guidance on how to report incidents in which multiple officers have fired shots.
  • Publish when the reports are received and posted so that compliance with the law’s time requirements can be monitored.
  • Require law enforcement to clarify what is considered a deadly weapon in an officer-involved shooting.
  • Report to the Legislature if law enforcement agencies have submitted reports late.
  • Create a public source that aggregates the information reported.
Other fixes will require legislative action in 2017:
To begin, HB 1036 needs some teeth. There is no agency tasked with enforcing the law, and even if one were, there is no punishment for noncompliance. In contrast, the Texas law that requires that a death in custody is reported provides a criminal penalty for failure to comply.

Further, legislators should expand the information being collected and reported. This month, the FBI announced that it would start collecting information on any incident in which a police officer causes serious injury or death to a civilian. Though the original version of Texas’ new law included mandatory reporting of any serious injury or death, the enacted version was stripped to limit reporting only to officer-involved shootings. All violent encounters should be reported so that the public and policymakers can understand the extent of police violence and develop evidence-based solutions to prevent it.

Legislators should also require that law enforcement report the badge numbers of officers involved in these incidents. Law enforcement’s response to recent deaths by police violence – in particular, the deaths of unarmed black men and children – has largely been blamed on “a few bad apples.” If true, those bad apples should be identified and held accountable.

Finally, Texas should make the information reported available in an online database. The reports are currently posted as PDFs on the attorney general’s website. I have been gathering them into an Excel spreadsheet, which I post online. This solution is only a Band-Aid and does not create the kind of accessibility and transparency that would come from having the database available through a governmental agency.
Excellent work, Amanda. On behalf of everybody who cares about police shootings but didn't have time, knowledge or expertise to participate in rule making, thank you.

The AG should adopt the Woog amendments and Texas legislators should begin planning to improve the statute when they come back to town a year from now.

See related Grits posts:


Anonymous said...

All these statistical reforms leave out qualitative analysis. Sure, we need statistical insights for trends but usually no one does anything about them.

In the mean time, the law enforcement exemption prevents family members of this killed by police officers from obtaining any records in a police shooting. Sure some jurisdictions may allow the release but the law doesn't compell it.

Woog and others such as myself have the same end goals: transparency when a police shooting occurs so that it can be inspected in detail by any citizen interested enough to do so. But her reforms wouldn't shed any significant light on an improper use of force or shooting in a particular case. So I guess I don't like the cosmetic surface level feel to her recommendations.

I'm currently researching a case where police officers hid video of an incident and are not required by any law to disclose what happened to it. An appeal to the Attorney General yielded nothing.

How about this: end the law enforcement exemption for police shootings. It was never intended as a shield for public officials acting in official capacity. It was intended as a privacy protection for people wrongfully accused of a crime who turned out to be innocent after an investigation. A police shooting doesn't fit that model. We simply want to know what happened in cases of deadly force.

So no, I don't agree with woog's reforms because they are as urge to needed as the obvious ones that are. Let me be a bit more colorful: her reforms are useless in the face of the specific incidents citizens are concerned to understand better and reform!

Anonymous said...

One statistic overlooked are the number of times a weapon is discharged but no one is actually hit. Though the officer choose to use deadly force, because he or she missed the target, no state or federal record is kept regarding the attempted use of deadly force. A miss is, for all practical purposes, a mulligan in these cases.

In other words, the stats only show us "success" in using deadly force, not all attempts to use deadly force. :~(