Lack of local police participation could cause FBI’s use-of-force database to shut down, GAO says

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(WASHINGTON) — The lack of police department participation in reporting use-of-force incidents could result in the FBI never publishing the data and the collection effort being shut down, according to a report released this week by the Government Accountability Office.

In 2019, the FBI launched a voluntary use of force reporting system, designed to create a national database for law enforcement use-of-force incidents, in an effort to provide better transparency and accountability. It was started in 2016, when then-FBI Director Jim Comey stated his intention to have the FBI capture use-of-force data.

“It is a narrative driven by video images of real and gut-wrenching misconduct, by images of possible misconduct, by images of perceived misconduct,” Comey said in 2016. “It’s a narrative given force by the awesome power of human empathy.”

Recent police use-of-force incidents have resulted in discipline or criminal charges. Former Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder after he put a knee on George Floyd’s neck over Memorial Day weekend in 2020. Former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, officer Kim Potter is currently on trial for allegedly mistaking her gun for a Taser and killing Daunte Wright.

In 2019, the FBI received 44% of participation and in 2020, 55% participation, the report, released Tuesday, said.

“I think the lack of ability to have reliable and comprehensive data on police use of force is one of the biggest things that is, in my view, is hampering law enforcement’s objective, which is really to gain trust to the community,” Jason C. Johnson, President of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, told ABC News. “It’s an area that, we’re very clearly, it has struggled in recent years. And so it is critical that we have thorough, comprehensive data about police use of force.”

The Office of Budget and Management tasked the FBI with reporting out the data.

“Due to insufficient participation from law enforcement agencies, the FBI faces risks that it may not meet the participation thresholds established in OMB’s terms of clearance for publishing data from the National Use-of-Force Data Collection, and therefore may never publish use-of-force incident data from the collection,” the GAO report says.

Johnson and Sheriff Vernon Stanforth of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Office in Ohio agree that some local communities don’t have the staffing or funding to fulfill these voluntary data requests.

“An agency has to [sometimes] decide: ‘Do I hire a clerical person or do I hire road units to protect my communities? So, which do I spend my money on?,'” Stanforth, who serves as president of the National Sheriff’s Association, said.

The report says the data collection will be “discontinued” by the end of 2022, if more departments don’t participate.

The stipulation by the OMB says that if the FBI does not reach 60% cooperation by the end of 2022, “the FBI was to end the data collection effort and explore alternatives for collecting law enforcement use-of-force data.”

If there is 60% of cooperation by law enforcement agencies, FBI will publish “limited information.”

Amid the calls for policing reform following the Floyd killing, President Trump Donald Trump issued an executive order tying database reporting to federal funding — on top of the existing FBI program.

The order called for the database to “include a mechanism to track, as permissible, terminations or de-certifications of law enforcement officers, criminal convictions of law enforcement officers for on-duty conduct, and civil judgments against law enforcement officers for improper use of force. The database … shall account for instances where a law enforcement officer resigns or retires while under active investigation related to the use of force.”

But a Congressional Research Service report that addressed whether a potential cutoff in federal grant funding provided enough incentive for local departments to comply concluded that “it most likely accounts for a relatively small portion of any local government’s policing budget.”

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