U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he wants the use of force by police and attacks on officers to be tracked nationwide as a way to rebuild trust between law enforcement and the communities they protect.
“This would represent a commonsense step that would begin to address serious concerns about police officer safety, as well as the need to safeguard civil liberties,” he said at a speech Thursday in Washington.
Holder’s announcement comes as the Obama administration is seeking ways to ease tensions between citizens and law enforcement after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri, in August and the death of another unarmed black man in police custody in New York. Both incidents sparked demonstrations, some of them violent, across the country including one today in Washington.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation currently tracks “justifiable homicides” by police, though the tally doesn’t include nonlethal police shootings or other use of force in which the victim survives. The data is provided voluntarily by local departments so not all of them participate.
The FBI also tracks when police officers are killed or attacked on the job. That data is also incomplete since it’s provided voluntarily.
Holder said that because many jurisdictions don’t provide such data because the reporting remains optional and department may lack sufficient incentives.
“This strikes many, including me, as unacceptable,” Holder said in his remarks. “Fixing this is an idea that we should all be able to unite behind.”
In response to the protests, President Barack Obama has convened a panel to address distrust of police among minorities, and said he would ask Congress to fund a community-policing package that would help supply as many as 50,000 body-worn cameras for officers.
The Justice Department is investigating the case involving the 18-year-old in Ferguson as well the death of a 43-year-old man in police custody on Staten Island. Local grand juries declined to indict the officers involved in those incidents.
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