Days after the launch of two newspaper database projects aimed at tracking killings by police officers, two Democratic senators announced Tuesday that they will introduce legislation that would require all states to report to the Justice Department anytime a police officer is involved in a shooting or any other use of force that results in death.
The legislation, introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), would require reporting of all shootings by police officers — including non-fatal ones — which is a step further than the Death In Custody Reporting Act, which was approved by Congress last year. Each state would be required details including age, gender, race and whether the person was armed for any police shooting.
“Too many members of the public and police officers are being killed, and we don’t have reliable statistics to track these tragic incidents,” Boxer said in a statement. “This bill will ensure that we know the full extent of the problem so we can save lives on all sides.”[Post analysis: 385 people shot and killed by police during first five months of 2015]
The nation has faced months of at-times tense discussions around issues of race and law enforcement following a series of deaths of black men and boys at the hands of police officers that became national stories — including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., Eric Garner in New York, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Those incidents have renewed calls, which have been made for years by some civil rights groups, for more standardized reporting of police use-of-force incidents. To date, there is no accurate, comprehensive data available about how many people are killed by American police officers each year.
In a release announcing the bill, Boxer and Booker specifically cite The Post’s reporting — which on Sunday revealed that at least 385 people have been shot and killed by police since January, putting the nation on pace to have more than double the number of fatal police shootings tallied on average by the federal government.
That piece is the latest in a yearlong effort by The Post to report on police accountability, which includes the creation of a database that will chronicle every fatal shooting by police officers in country this year.
On Monday, the Guardian unveiled a similar reporting project, The Counted, which aims to tally every person killed by a police officer — by shooting, Taser or other death in custody — in 2015.
“The first step in fixing a problem is understanding the extent of the problem you have. Justice and accountability go hand in hand — but without reliable data it’s difficult to hold people accountable or create effective policies that change the status quo,” Booker said in a statement. “Our legislation is vital to ensuring we have the data required to make good decisions and implement reform measures that are balanced, objective, and protect the lives of police officers and the public.”
Some civil rights leaders have criticized Congress of passing little legislation in response to the unrest in Ferguson. Many activists who have led protests in the past year would consider the passage of legislation requiring detailed death in custody reporting to DOJ to be a major victory.
However, with Republicans in control of both the House and the Senate, Democratic legislative proposals face an uphill march toward passage.
“This is a step in the right direction. I’d have to read the bill to understand the details but the fact that there seems to be political will to establish a federal database is a very good sign,” said David Klinger, a criminologist at the University of Missouri who has been fighting for more than a decade for better reporting on police use of force incidents.
– Kimberly Kindy contributed to this report
Wesley Lowery is a national reporter covering law enforcement and justice for the Washington Post. He previously covered Congress and national politics.