Today, a coalition of organizations committed to government openness and accountability are calling on Congress to pass legislation that would take an important step forward towards improving police transparency. The letter calls for congress to pass the Police Reporting of Information, Data and Evidence (PRIDE) Act, at a time when public pressure for comprehensive data on deadly incidents involving law enforcement has reached a high point.
Media outlets such as the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Guardian have carried out efforts compile data on law-enforcement-involved incidence of violence, and drawn attention to the fact that no comprehensive federal programs exist to comprehensively and uniformly require the reporting of such data. Most recently, the Guardian reported on October 15 that high-profile cases of civilian deaths, such as the case of Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, are missing from the federal government’s official record of homicides by officers. This is due to the fact that most police departments across the country refuse to submit data on such incidents.
FBI Director James Comey recently called the lack of accurate information on police-involved shootings “ridiculous” and “embarrassing.” This came after Attorney General Loretta Lynch stated on October 2 that the federal government should not require police to report fatal shootings of civilians, diverging from former Attorney General Eric Holder’s stance on transparency about police killings.
The Attorney General has since released a press statement saying that use-of-force data is vital for transparency and accountability, and highlighted a number of measures the Justice Department carries out to “improve the accuracy and consistency of use-of-force data from law enforcement.” Nonetheless, the Justice Department still does not have a national record of all police-involved shooting deaths. One of the issues identified by the Attorney General is the small size of the average police department and lack of resources, which makes record-keeping difficult. The PRIDE Act (S. 1476 and H.R. 3481) addresses this acknowledged problem by making new grants to eligible States to increase capacity and resources – provided the departments report on officer–related shootings and use–of–force incidents.
Importantly, the bill also calls for the Attorney General, in coordination with the Director of the FBI, to issue guidance on establishing standard data collection systems, including standard and consistent definitions, such as for “use of force.” Standardized definitions combined with data required are imperative to identifying how and where racial bias occurs in police-relating use–of–force incidents – a crucial first step to addressing the issue.
The urgency of the problems associated with police transparency is reflected in Police Data Initiative launched recently by the White House, as part of which 21 police departments have committed to release a combined total of 101 data sets that have not been released to the public. The types of data include uses of force, police pedestrian and vehicle stops, officer involved shootings and more, helping the communities gain visibility into key information on police/citizen encounters. The PRIDE Act would both institutionalize and, if properly funded, provide support for the necessary work currently being done and serve to sustain it into the future.
The failure-to-document and lack of comprehensive data on law enforcement-involved shootings and use–of–force incidents remains a systematic impediment to public trust in law enforcement institutions. The passage of the PRIDE Act is pivotal to provide support for the necessary work currently being done to collect and compile data critical for justice and accountability for the police violence.
The letter was sent to all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as to members of the House Judiciary Committee and House Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Subcommittee.
The following civil society organizations signed-on to the letter:
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
Amnesty International USA
Arab American Institute
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Defending Dissent Foundation
Government Accountability Project
Media Freedom Foundation
National Coalition Against Censorship
PEN American Center
Restore The Fourth
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of Professional Journalists
Student Press Law Center
Woodhull Freedom Foundation