The FBI may be forced to end its police use-of-force database before publishing a single statistic due to a lack of reporting by many federal and local agencies.
Launched in 2019, the National Use-of-Force Data Collection Program was intended to be a database for all police use-of-force incidents – not just shootings –to give insight on the use of force in policing.
However, due to the failure of a majority of agencies to report their data to the FBI, the program’s future is in jeopardy.
According to a report by the congressional watchdog organization the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the FBI must receive enough data from agencies nationwide to represent at least 60% of all law enforcement officers in the country in order to meet the Office of Management and Budget’s standard of quality.
At present, the program’s data narrowly misses the mark, covering around 57% of local, state, tribal, and federal officers.
GAO wrote in their report: “Due to insufficient participation from law enforcement agencies, the FBI faces risks that it may not meet the participation thresholds, and therefore may never publish use of force incident data.”
Data collection problems were in fact noted during the pilot program for the database; the FBI reported that agencies found inputting the data to be time consuming and difficult. For instance, Former Miami and Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo said that Houston police estimated the need for three additional full-time employees to manage the data.
Despite these concerns, the DOJ responded to the GAO report by saying that it believes the minimum threshold will be met.
“The FBI believes the agreed upon thresholds will be met to allow the data collection to continue, and is taking steps to increase participation in data collection efforts,” Assistant Attorney General Lee J. Loftus said. He added that a letter was sent to federal agencies encouraging their participation in the program.
The FBI responded by also keeping a positive outlook, noting that the program’s participation rate continues to rise daily.
Norwood Police Chief Bill Brooks and a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) board of directors told the Washington Post he believes the 60% will be met.
He said the problem is that agencies with no use-of-force incidents are counted as not participating.
“The IACP has long supported the data collection, and low participation numbers make us look like we’re hiding something, when in reality I don’t think that’s the case,” he said.
The GAO also blamed the Department of Justice for waiting too long to start collecting data, claiming that they ignored clauses in the 1994 crime bill’s requirement to gather data on the use of excessive force. No annual summary of use-of-force data has been published by the DOJ for the last five years, according to the GAO, which makes this current FBI program even more important.
However, experts note it’s not federal agencies who are failing to report data, but primarily state and local agencies.
While the data from the program’s website shows that around 81% of federal law enforcement officers are represented, only around 41% of state and local departments have submitted data.
Many small departments do not have the manpower or budget for data collection, according to criminologist Dr. Hunter Boehme at North Carolina Central University.
“When you have a small police department, they’re more worried about keeping the lights on, protecting the community, and patrolling,” Boehme said.
In North Carolina, for example, only 31 of 585 of its agencies provided use-of-force data last year, representing only 24% of law enforcement officers in the state. However, the majority of NC agencies are small and under-funded.
A DOJ report in 2007 found that 89.5% of NC agencies are considered small or rural, having less than 50 personnel. Smaller agencies, the DOJ said, tend to have less funding from their communities, which could impact data collection.
“We’re as good as our data,” Boehme said. “I would say there’s a lack of data collection and storage and whether they want to report this.”