Wanted: A Better Understanding of When and Why Police Use Force

It has been more than two years since Ferguson, Missouri erupted into riots following the deadly police shooting of an unarmed teenager named Michael Brown. It was exactly two years ago this month that Tamir Rice, a 12-year old playing with a toy gun, was shot dead by a cop in Cleveland, Ohio.

There have been many more cases of deadly police shootings since then and still Washington hasn’t figured out a way to keep track of when and why officers use force against the citizenry. Why not?

The Video is Clear - But WHY is this Officer Shooting?

The Video is Clear – But WHY is this Officer Shooting?

FBI Director James Comey has called the situation, “embarrassingunacceptable and ridiculous.”  And while there has been a lot of talk about setting up a national data base to track trends in forceful police interactions with the public exactly zero data has been collected.

While Washington contemplated the situation, the media got to work to fill the gap. Several organizations, most notably the Washington Post created impressive state-by-state running tally sheets and descriptions of each fatal police shooting.

Wash Post Fatal Cop Shot Tally

The Washington Post’s Tally is Extremely Detailed. Click on figure and information about shooting appears.

The Post’s database shows there were 991 such “cop kills” in 2015 . And, as of this writing, police have found it necessary to use deadly force against 785 people so far this year. Reading through individual case summaries you come to understand the harrowing situations our officers face on a daily basis and the instantaneous decisions they must make. A reader can also clearly see too many “accidental shootings” taking the lives of whites, blacks, Latinos and all color of citizens.

The Washington Post’s on line database explains that their information is gleaned from public records, news reports, social media and other sources.

So if a newspaper has enough staff to gather this much information why hasn’t the bloated Department of Justice (with its $21 billion annual budget) been able to, at the very least, compile a similar database? While not a completely precise process it could be a most helpful starting point from which to begin a national conversation about how our front-line officers react and under what circumstances. Wouldn’t that be a terrific tool for training academies to have as they review and update their procedures? Why has Washington been dragging its feet?

What's Stopping the Dept of Justice From Keeping Track of Fatal Cop Shoots?

What’s Stopping the Dept of Justice From Keeping Track of Fatal Cop Shoots?

Finally, now in the waning days of the Obama Administration, the Justice Department has come up with what appears to be a plan, albeit it a misguided and lackluster plan.

Early next year (read that: when the next president takes office) a pilot program is scheduled to begin gathering statistics on the use of force by federal law enforcement officials and storing the information in a centralized on-line database.

Gee, I guess they need to start somewhere but a quick glance at the list of recent trouble spots – Ferguson, Baltimore, Charlotte, Tulsa, Baton Rouge, Milwaukee, Staten Island and Cleveland – shows that not one involved a federal officer.

This DOJ plan will also instruct the 178,000 agents at agencies like the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the US Marshalls Service to keep track of their other activities. They are to gather information on all in-custody deaths (including suicides and natural passings) as well as other non-fatal encounters with the public. After a six-month trial period, your local and state law enforcement departments will be asked to voluntarily do the same.

See, there’s the trouble with this idea. Cop shops across the country are cash strapped, many barely able to meet the needs of the public with the staff they have. Where will they find an extra body (or two) to compile all this additional data?

Cops and BW lives matter

Local Police Departments Need Help, New Training and Understanding From Both Washington and the Citizens

The DOJ said it would set aside $750,000 to help local departments collect stats on this wider range of police actions but in a country with some 18,000 individual law enforcement agencies that calculates out to about $40 per department. Besides that, the proposed new plan carries no financial penalties and organizations can simply ignore the call for voluntary participation. So how good is a data base that only attracts a relative few participants?

I’m not sure how much the federal pilot program is going to cost the taxpayers but wouldn’t that money be better spent at the grassroots level, at the very departments experiencing the most community unrest? I’m not suggesting federal agents should be above scrutiny but, let’s get real, and admit that the front-line battle is where officers walk the beat and where patrol cars make their nightly rounds.

Reliable information is power. Let’s concentrate on getting it from the communities that need the most help. Let’s understand why our officers react the way they do and under what circumstances.

The media can’t keep taking up the slack on this important task forever.




  1. Diane Dimond on November 3, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Facebook Friend Daniel Thomas Moran writes:

    Our society is very ill and, rather that facing it with resolve, we have sent policeman to try and deal with it, something for which they are ill-prepared. What is the surprise is that conflicts keep occurring without any sign of abating. It is like sending a housepainter into the cancer ward in the hopes that applying new paint to the walls will cure the patients.

  2. Diane Dimond on November 3, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    Facebook Friend Kenny Davis writes:

    They shoot them because they know they can ..#thinblueline

    • Diane Dimond on November 3, 2016 at 3:43 pm

      Daniel Thomas Moran replies:

      So then this is all about sport?

      • Diane Dimond on November 3, 2016 at 3:43 pm

        Kenny Davis replies:


        • Diane Dimond on November 3, 2016 at 3:43 pm

          Diane Dimond replies:

          Yeah. I can’t agree with that, Kenny, that its all about power or done cavalierly. I think the one thing the citizenry doesn’t bother to think about is how AFRAID our law enforcement officers have become. Out in the field they run across volatile gang members, passionate domestic abuse cases, mentally ill and drug abusers with guns. Ask yourself – would YOU be comfortable with a working environment like that? This is not excusing bad police shootings – its simply understanding and accepting the realities of how dangerous some of our American streets have become. How so many out there have so little regard for human life.

          • Diane Dimond on November 3, 2016 at 3:46 pm

            Kenny Davis replies:

            Well..Diane..admittedly perhaps I’m biased. I had the misfortune to live next door to a HPD several years ago and he followed my mom and me in his patrol car with his wife In passenger seat and harrassed us at every chance reported us at SSI, Metrolift and only after he left did we figure out why….he was smuggling his wifes family from mexico so he tried to make us move so we wouldnt get suspicious, I guess. I’ve never thought the same about cops since…there isint enough checks and balances in place to weed out the ones who do Abuse

  3. Diane Dimond on November 3, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Andrea Saint James replies:

    I agree, Kenny. I dated a cop who abused alcohol and beat me up. Hd his buddies report on all my activities and whereabouts. Broke into my house at 2 am in full police regalia, weapon drawn. I put him in prison for it, but I have NO RESPECT for police.

    • Diane Dimond on November 3, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Kenny Davis replies:

      I think all the bullies from school became cops

  4. Diane Dimond on November 3, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    Sorry, Kenny and Andrea about your past negative encounters with police. But not respecting or trusting ALL law enforcement because of the bad actions of a few doesn’t make sense.
    Put it this way – if someone is banging on your door in the middle of the night with a gun, screaming that they want to kill you – who will you call for help? When you’ve had a bad car accident, who will you call? If a loved one is being abused or your next door neighbor is being beaten to a pulp – who will you call for help? ~ DD

  5. Diane Dimond on November 3, 2016 at 3:54 pm

    Reader Amasaitis writes:

    I just read “The War on Cops” and the DOJ has already strapped local police departments with unending paper work about arrests police engagements that the locals have to pay for. So while crime runs rampant on the streets in places the officers are tied up with mostly irrelevant duplicate paperwork on why they pulled over minority person.
    The cops are presumed guilty until they prove their innocence in a way.
    It’s sickening and we need to drain the swamp that breeds this disease.

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