Cory Booker: More Data on Police-Involved Shootings ‘Common Sense’

By Sheryl Estrada

Sen. Cory Booker. Photo by Shutterstock.

There are currently no comprehensive federal programs in the U.S. to gather data on police-involved shootings and use of force.

Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Police Reporting of Information, Data and Evidence (PRIDE) Act on June 2, and ithas not yet picked up steam in Washington.

“We really need more momentum to get this bill to move forward,” Booker told DiversityInc. “And you would think it would just be simple common sense that we should have an understanding of police-involved shootings in America, whether the police are the victim or are doing the shooting themselves. It’s not being done.”

The legislation would make it mandatory for states to report to the Attorney General use of force incidents described as any incident in which a police officer is involved in a shooting as well as any other instance where use of force by or against an officer or civilian results in serious bodily injury or death.

The FBI only obtains data on what are considered justifiable homicides by police officers, and the data is limited to instances when a civilian is killed while committing a felony.The local police agencies give the data to state reporting bodies, which then forward the data to the FBI. But reporting is voluntary.

There also is no mandated reporting to the federal government onlaw enforcement officers killedor injured in the line of duty.

“I would say the overwhelming majority of Americans share the aspiration that we should have safe communities, that our law enforcement should always operate and conduct themselves with high levels of professionalism, respect, as well as effectiveness,” Booker said. He is confident thebill is “actually something that is going to be supportive of the aims of not only citizens, but law enforcement and empower them to better achieve our common communal aspirations.”

In 2013, the FBIreported461 justifiable homicides by police officers, but the data is questionable since submissions are not mandatory.

According toThe Washington Post, since 2011 less than3 percent of the 18,000 local and state police agencies around the country have reported fatal shootings by their officers to the FBI.

Why are the local and state police departments not reporting these shootings

“We can all speculate, but without a mandated reporting we will never know the depth and breath of this issue,” Booker said. “And so by having a uniform system, for reporting like we do in other elements of the criminal justice system, we will begin to better be able to know the fullness of the challenges and actually design strategies to begin to address the issue.”

With the PRIDE Act, mandatory data collected would include the gender, race, ethnicity and age of the person shot, injured or killed; the date, time and location of the incident; whether the civilian was armed with a weapon; and the type of force used against the officer, the civilian or both, including the types of weapons used.

Blacks in the U.S. were twice as likely to be killed by police than whites regardless of a vital difference in population sizes, according to recentindependent datafrom The Guardian, which has been keeping adatabaseof citizens killed by police since January. Over the past year police-related deaths of Black males, most recentlyFreddie Grayin Baltimore, have received national attention.

Booker said having the in-depth data is useful for local and state law enforcement and the federal government to address “what is a problem in our country when we have any individual being shot and killed in the result of police action. Whether it’s police themselves, or civilians.”

Reports have shown theFBI’s statisticson law-enforcement involved shootings are under-documented. In March, The Justice Department’sBureau of Justice Statisticsreleased an analysis, which concluded the data collected on the number of people killed by police was undercounted by more than half from 2003 to 2009 and 2011, naming “variation in methodologies” as one of the reasons.

The Wall Street Journal released ananalysisin December, which found that between 2007 and 2012 hundreds of homicides by law enforcement agencies were not included in FBI records. According to the FBI, during that time period, 1,242 people were killed by police in 105 of the largest police jurisdictions in the country. However the analysis revealed that there were more than 550 police-involved deaths not included in those stats, raising the number killed to more than 1,800.

To gain information regarding shootings and use of force incidents against the police, the PRIDE Act would also provide grants for hotlines and tip lines.

“If there is a police shooting, in which a police officer is shot, for example, the tip lines have helped us to get information,” Booker said. “We want to a see a lot of these tip lines have the resources necessary to incentivize people to come forward with information that helps us.”

Booker said he’s learned from experience law enforcement does want comprehensive data.

“I know from having been a mayor over a police department that police departments actually do like data,” he said. “They like to be able to know what’s going on. And, civilians, frankly, should have access to that data as well.”

Grants may also be used to support state efforts for use of force training for law enforcement agencies and personnel, including bias and de-escalation training.

Booker said he and Boxer are continually working toward advancing the PRIDE Act.

“It’s good to have a partner like Barbara Boxer who has so much seniority,” he said. “But we’ve seen our vote still in the minority of Democrats. We’re really working hard to try to get hearings on the bill and the appropriate committee. And hope that we can move forward with it to a vote.”

That means successfully navigating the bill through a Republican-led congress.

“As this issue becomes more ripe, we’re getting a lot of more sympathetic conversation with Republicans who understand that this is an issue facing our nation,” Booker said. “But we’re going to have to push a lot to get it to the floor. Or to get it into a committee for a mark up.”

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