Uncle Sam plans to implement a new nationwide database in 2017 that will be used to track incidents in which a police officer has either killed or used force against the average citizen.
The Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it would begin collecting national data on police violence against civilians. Officials say the pilot program, which was designed to meticulously monitor police encounters with the public, will be one of the federal government’s most aggressive tools when it comes to keeping law enforcement in check.
“Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations,” U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement. “The initiatives we are announcing today are vital efforts toward increasing transparency and building trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve.”
Unfortunately, while the new program will track 178,000 federal agents, including those with the DEA, the government is relying on the honor system to get local and state police forces to participate in the program. To do this, the Justice Department has set aside a $750,000 encouragement fund in hopes of persuading these police agencies to contribute to the database.
Last year, FBI Director James Comey told the House Judiciary Committee that a nationwide database covering violent police interactions with the public was necessary to ensure accurate information is made available where media databases have “embarrassingly” failed.
“People have data about who went to a movie last weekend, or how many books were sold, or how many cases of the flu walked into the emergency room,” Comey said, “and I cannot tell you how many people were shot by police in the United States last month, last year, or anything about the demographic. And that’s a very bad place to be.”
According to the Washington Post, there were 991 people killed by police officers in the United States last year. So far, 754 people have died at the hands of law enforcement in 2016.
The pilot program will pick up were the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2014 left off, by requiring law enforcement to report all violent incidents involving lethal and non-lethal force. This includes cases where people have been injured or killed as a result of being suffocated, strangled or beaten by a police officer—putting those cops’ names and actions on federal record.
This news comes just days after Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union released a report showing that the majority of police work in the United States involves arresting people for minor drug possession. The human rights groups found that police bust someone for this offense every 25 seconds—more arrests than all violent crime combined.
In some cities, officials have implemented programs that require police officers be accompanied by a team of mental health professionals when dealing with calls involving drug users. The goal of these special “crisis squads” is to de-escalate situations that officers are not trained to deal with and prevent the use of unnecessary violence.
Many advocates believe these types of programs should be implemented nationwide.
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