Just a few months ago, FBI Director James Comey delivered a powerful, memorable speech on race and law enforcement, acknowledging “hard truths” in a surprisingly candid way. The Republican, appointed by President Obama, covered quite a bit of ground in his speech at Georgetown University, but there was one observation that continues to stand out.
“Not long after riots broke out in Ferguson, I asked my staff to tell me how many people shot by police were African American. They couldn’t, and it wasn’t their fault,” Comey said. “Demographic data regarding officer-involved shootings is not consistently reported to us through our Uniform Crime Reporting Program. Because reporting is voluntary, our data is incomplete and therefore, in the aggregate, unreliable.”
The remarks touched an unfortunate truth: it’s hard to have a substantive debate, focused on specific solutions, without a foundation of accurate data. The problem relates to race, but it’s not limited to race – as Wesley Lowery noted yesterday, there is currently “no accurate, comprehensive data available about how many people are killed by American police officers each year.”
To that end, a couple of Democratic U.S. senators have new legislation to change that. The Washington Post reported:
Days after the launch of two newspaper database projects aimed at tracking killings by police officers, two Democratic senators announced Tuesday that they will introduce legislation that would require all states to report to the Justice Department anytime a police officer is involved in a shooting or any other use of force that results in death.The legislation, introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), would require reporting of all shootings by police officers – including non-fatal ones – which is a step further than the Death In Custody Reporting Act, which was approved by Congress last year. Each state would be required details including age, gender, race and whether the person was armed for any police shooting.
In a press statement, Booker said, “The first step in fixing a problem is understanding the extent of the problem you have. Justice and accountability go hand in hand – but without reliable data it’s difficult to hold people accountable or create effective policies that change the status quo.”
That shouldn’t be controversial. This proposal wouldn’t actually change law enforcement in any specific way – it’s just about gathering accurate information.
That said, the bill faces long odds in a Republican-led Congress. Sometimes, new ideas, regardless of merit, take years to advance. Given the circumstances, it’s unlikely this bill will go far in this Congress.
But it’s a debate worth having, and it’s legislation worth watching. Boxer and Booker have called their bill the “Police Reporting of Information, Data and Evidence Act” – or “PRIDE Act” – which was officially unveiled yesterday.
For those who want to follow it, the bill number is S.1476. As of this morning, it does not yet have any co-sponsors or a companion bill in the House, though I suspect that’ll change.