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The Government Might Improve Patchy Police Killing Data

Better data on deadly police encounters may be on its way. The Department of Justice (DOJ) proposed a new system last week requiring police departments to approve reports of officer interactions that result in civilian deaths. The proposal supports data collection in the same vein as that used by the Guardian, which counts deaths from tasering and other types of force as well as shootings, the newspaper reported today.

As it stands, state law enforcement agencies are required toreport deaths to the DOJ, and stand to lose funding should they fail to do so. But those reports often lack cases from local law enforcement groups that do not submit data to the state. The new system would avoid this “middleman” problem by requesting reports from state and local agencies. It also would rely less heavily on departmental reports, promising instead to count deaths by “open-source review,” after which it will ask departments to confirm cases — and add any missing ones — into those independent records.

Incomplete data on deadly police encounters has made it impossible to “understand the scope of racially based police shootings,” Jared Kellerwrote for Pacific Standard in July:

How can local, state, and federal authorities craft effective policies that curb police violence when they don’t understand the extent of the problem?

The DOJ will accept public comments on its proposal until October 3. With new shootings reported at least weekly, and pained communities left navigating ways to reduce them, better data can’t come fast enough.