FBI Director nominee falls short on police transparency and accountability commitments

As Senate leadership pushes for a quick confirmation vote on President Trump’s pick to lead the FBI, Christopher Wray’s responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questions for the record deserve a close examination. While Mr. Wray provided assurance that, if confirmed as Director, he would operate with full independence from partisan political interference, he failed to commit to prioritizing data collection efforts aimed at increasing accountability for law enforcement.

Senator Hirono took the opportunity to submit questions, based on recommendations provided by OpenTheGovernment and civil rights groups, on the FBI’s collection of data on hate crimes and police use-of-force incidents. Senator Hirono asked Mr. Wray what steps he would take to improve the FBI’s information collection programs on officer involved shootings and hate crimes, and whether he would prioritize such efforts. Mr. Wray said that, while he shared “concern about the need for accurate data to better help us understand the scope of the hate crimes issues,” he was “not yet familiar with the methods by which law enforcement agencies report hate crimes,” or the DOJ’s Bureau of Justice Statistics’ work in this area. He provided no answer in response to the question on use-of-force data.

The fact that Mr. Wray offered no guarantee that he would prioritize data collection, and failed to respond to the question on officer-involved shooting data, raises serious concerns. The FBI engages in significant data collection efforts, including the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) program, and is leading efforts to improve police use-of-force data collected through the UCR. Such programs have received widespread public attention, notably, for their shortcomings. Experts have criticized the FBI’s poor methodology and incomplete reporting, and media outlets have compiled data showing that the FBI dramatically undercounts fatal police shootings across the country. Last year, former FBI Director James Comey called it “embarrassing and ridiculous,” that the federal government’s data on police shootings was no better than databases compiled by media outlets.

Congress should follow Sen. Hirono’s lead and call for Mr. Wray to commit to transparency efforts needed to enhance accountability for law enforcement nationwide. Senators should also push the nominee to clarify his positions on warrantless surveillance, and the use of cell phone interception technology – key issues to ensuring the next director of the FBI upholds central tenets to accountable and open government.

Read Christopher Wray’s responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s questions for the record here