August 26, 2014

So the "Just Us" Department is really, really good at going after medical marijuana users and growers, but not so good at enforcing laws that might upset powerful special interest groups -- and it's not just Wall Street!

One of the reasons we don't have data on police use of excessive force is because compiling this information relies on law enforcement agencies being forthcoming about these incidents. Generally speaking, it takes FOIA requests and lawsuits to obtain any data gathered by individual police departments. This shouldn't be the case. In fact, as AllGov reports, this lack of data violates a federal law.

In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Among its provisions was the order that “the Attorney General shall, through appropriate means, acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.” The Justice Department was also required to publish an annual report on the data collected.

And…that’s pretty much the last anyone heard of that. The work of collecting the data was shuffled off to the International Association for Chiefs of Police, which made a few efforts at collecting data and put together a report in 2001, but has produced nothing since.

Unsurprisingly, law enforcement agencies don't want to talk about it, and the entity in charge of compiling the data seems entirely uninterested in doing the job. Even if the data was collected as the statute requires, much of it would still be questionable. For one, it relies on self-reporting by entities that see zero benefit in exposing their officers' wrongdoing. For another, excessive force incidents previously recorded may turn out to be "justified" later, either by internal investigations or via the judicial system.

But a starting point would be nice or, at the very least, some ballpark figures on year-to-year excessive force incidents. Without it, the public is largely reliant on perception -- and the perception is that police officers are deploying excessive force with increasing frequency.

The person ultimately responsible for this annual compilation of data is none other than the US Attorney General -- the same person who recently traveled to Ferguson, Missouri to help sort out its excessive force problem.

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