National Use-of-Force Data to be Available Soon — But Will it Help?
In November 2018, the FBI announced a Task Force project that would entail collecting of data from law-enforcement agencies around the United States in an effort to shed light on the statistics surrounding police use of force. Data collection began in January 2019, and information the FBI will provide is said to be available this summer (2020).
While this is certainly timely in light of the recent events and protests against law-enforcement, the concern is that the information the FBI makes available will not necessarily be what the public is either expecting or hoping for.
In an incident with use of force during an arrest, we would not see any data on whether or not that use the force was within the bounds of departmental, or National policy — because that peice of information simply wasn’t part of the data being collected.
It’s also important to note that the program is both self-reported by agencies (through the FBI’s portal) and completely voluntary for officers.
If you’re someone who loves to play around with data, especially to get insights in light of this past months events, some bad news is that it is not completely clear the FBI is actually releasing anything at the detail level. They refer to it on their website as “statistics” to be provided, which, in all likelihood, will end up being a national summary of use-of-force data.
If that is the case, then however the FBI decides to summarize that data is what we would receive. While this is certainly be better than nothing, it will not satisfy those looking to get additional, deeper insights from particular angles by querying the data themselves.
It is also significant to note that the data will come from about 6,700 State, Local and Tribal agencies, this represents only about 40% of sworn law-enforcement officers in the United States. Because the program is completely voluntary, it is up to the departments to participate.
As for what is contained in the original data received through the FBI’s portal for law-enforcement, there is a good amount of detail-level information about both the suspect and the officers of each reported incident, and for the most part, all fields are mandatory unless “pending”. (See below for a listing of which types of incidents are included, and the data elements being captured for each incident.)
Although this National-level data collection effort was the first of its kind, I should note that many law-enforcement agencies around the US have already been providing similar data to the FBI for a couple years. The main difference is that this is a “unified system” for officers to use, and thus will be able to gather that data in a uniform way which, makes analyzing it much more efficient.
Types of Incidents Included
- When a fatality to a person occurs connected to use of force by a law enforcement officer
- When there is serious bodily injury to a person connected to use of force by a law enforcement officer
- In the absence of either death or serious bodily injury, when a firearm is discharged by law enforcement at or in the direction of a person.
Data Elements of Each Incident
- Date and time of the incident
- Total number of officers who applied actual force during the incident
- Number of officers from the reporting agency who applied actual force during the incident
- Location of the incident (address or latitude/longitude)
- Location type of the incident (street, business, residence, restaurant, school, etc.)
- Did the officer(s) approach the subject(s)?
- Was it an ambush incident?
- Was a supervisor or a senior officer acting in a supervisory capacity present or consulted at any point during the incident?
- What was the reason for initial contact between the subject and the officer (response to unlawful or suspicious activity, routine patrol, traffic stop, etc.)?
- If the initial contact was due to “unlawful or criminal activity,” what were the most serious reported offenses committed by the subject prior to or at the time of the incident?
- If applicable, the reporting agency will enter the National Incident-Based Reporting System or local incident number of the report detailing criminal incident information on the subject and/or assault or homicide of a law enforcement officer
- If the incident involved multiple law enforcement agencies, the agency will include case numbers for the local use-of-force reports at the other agencies
A link for all the specifics on the incident and data collection is provided below.
As to whether the findings will provide a level of transparency that the public is hoping for is not known, but is doubtful. Particularly if news agencies and “citizen data scientists” cannot review individual records or query the data as they’d like.
Aside from being available this summer per to the FBI’s website, we don’t know a specific date. But, when available, it should be on the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) website, located here:
Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program | Federal Bureau of Investigation
The UCR Program's primary objective is to generate reliable information for use in law enforcement administration…
To see a summary of the reasons for the undertaking, the FBI’s “promo” video is located here:
National Use-of-Force Data Collection | Federal Bureau of Investigation
Database will collect information about incidents in which force is used by a law enforcement officer that results in…
For all specific additional information available about the data included, you can go here: