The Department of Justice announced that it is seeking to launch an “arrest-related deaths” program that will require U.S. police departments to comprehensively report data on all deaths in which police officers are involved. Previously, the feds had left such efforts to civic groups and media outlets, like The Guardian’s The Counted project. What did exist—a voluntary reporting system run by the FBI—dramatically undercounted police killings by more than half. The proposed program will include demographic information on those killed, whether they were armed, and the circumstances of their death. It will track not only police shootings, but also deaths caused by taser, physical force, or vehicular crash.
An important aspect of this program is its reliance on a hybrid system of data collection to corroborate deaths rather than depending on police reporting alone. Forms sent to the nearly 20,000 police departments around the country will list deaths already reported in the media and other open sources, and will ask the departments to add the deaths that were not listed. Those departments that have no police-related deaths to report will have to report an “affirmative zero” to confirm that there were none. Coroners and medical examiners will also be enlisted in confirming the details of deaths documented in open sources like the media.
The Department of Justice cited the Death in Custody Reporting Act as the basis for its authority in launching this program. Few may know such a law exists—which requires police departments to report all deaths in custody, or lose 10 percent of their federal funding—because it has largely existed only on paper.