The US Department of Justice, for the first time, will keep a comprehensive database of fatal officer-involved incidents, amid rising skepticism around police accountability.
It seems impossible to ignore that the announcement from the Federal Register came late on Monday, just one day before the two-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown — the unarmed black teenager who was shot dead by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. His death triggered protests, sparked a national conversation about policing, and shone a spotlight on the systemic racism that pervades criminal justice in the US.
Until now, the FBI has maintained a dataset which includes information about fatal police shootings. Local law-enforcement agencies can voluntarily submit homicide statistics, including incidents involving police, to state police departments, which in turn send the data to the FBI. But since Brown's death, that system has been widely discredited.
An investigation by the Wall Street Journal found that the FBI dataset was missing more than 550 police killings between 2007 and 2012 from 105 of the country's largest police departments.
The new DOJ system is modeled after "The Counted" — a groundbreaking initiative by The Guardian which kept track of police killings since 2015 by relying on local media reports, and as a result has created a more complete picture of brutality by law enforcement in the US.
All law enforcement agencies — 19,450 in total — will be required to submit quarterly reports of all officer-involved deaths directly to the DOJ, including information about the location and time of the incident, manner of death, the victim's behavior during the incident, reason for initial contact, and the victim's race, age, gender, and so on. Failure to comply means they could lose 10 percent of their agency's funding.
Medical examiners and coroners will also be required to submit reports to the DOJ whenever they receive a body of someone who was killed by police.
Federal officials also say they will also work independently to verify fatal officer-involved incidents seen in local media reports and other sources, rather than waiting for police confirmation.
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