SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Despite the controversy caused by some officer-involved shootings, did you know that there has never been a federal database tracking use-of-force cases by police officers?
The FBI launched a program this year to change that.
Folks in the law enforcement community are hopeful it works, because they believe it could improve training and stop false allegations. Some people, though, have concerns about whether the FBI will be able to successfully collect the data. The shootings happen in a matter of moments. They’re a stark reminder of the life-and-death decisions law enforcement officers make every day across this country.
Investigations into them - in Georgia at least - last much longer, often months. Since 2016, The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has investigated every officer-involved shooting in Georgia.
“What we bring to the table is we come in and most of these officers, we don’t even know. So, we come in and do an independent investigation, a criminal independent investigation,” said GBI Special Agent John Durden. “It’s a model; I think it should be a model. It may not be the only model, but the way we do it is a proven method.”
Durden is the former use-of-force training officer for the GBI. He developed a policy to investigate officer-involved shootings that is now being mimicked in other states. What the GBI does is far from normal. Durden said most states don’t have an independent agency investigating every officer-involved shooting.
The agency keeps data on use-of-force cases as well. Now, the FBI wants to do something similar.
The Department of Justice started collecting data from local agencies in January. The FBI will track use-of-force cases using more than a dozen different factors about the officer and the person involved. The hope is that this hard data allows the law enforcement community to bridge the gap between community and police.
“I think it’s important to remember there are more than 18,000 state and local law enforcement agencies across the country,” said Phil Stinson, a former police officer and now a professor and criminologist at Bowling Green State University. “It’s very difficult to systematically collect any type of data.”
Stinson is skeptical of the success the program will have. He’s been tracking law enforcement misconduct for more than a decade. He’s also worked with the Justice Department on data collection. Those agencies are under no legal requirement to report info to the FBI.
“There were prior efforts under the Clinton administration for the DOJ to collect data on police use of force incidents,” Stinson said. “That had several false starts, and eventually, it was deemed a failure. They weren’t able to complete any of the data collection.”
If successful, though. Law enforcement agencies think it will cut down on allegations of misconduct and allow for better training on use-of-force incidents.
Two major law enforcement associations told WTOC they will encourage their members to report. The National Sheriff’s Association and the International Associations of Chiefs of Police said the data collection will lead to better training, transparency, and planning.