Feds Announce Data Collection Baby Steps
October 17, 2016 (Fault Lines) — Last week the Department of Justice announced plans to partner with law enforcement agencies in an effort to collect data on every use of force by law enforcement nationwide. Here is an excerpt from the DOJ Office of Public Affairs website:
In 2014, Congress passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA), which required states and federal law enforcement agencies to submit data to the department about civilians who died during interactions with law enforcement or in their custody (whether resulting from use or force or some other manner of death, such as suicide or natural causes) and authorized the Attorney General to impose a financial penalty on non-compliant states. However, Congress did not impose a similar reporting requirement for non-lethal uses of force by law enforcement. In the absence of a statutory mandate, and in an effort to close this gap, the department is partnering with local, state, tribal and federal law enforcement to provide a means for national data collection.
As was reported previously on Fault Lines, this is a hollow announcement. The likelihood of this so-called “financial penalty” happening to any state is so small it cannot be seen by the naked eye.
So now, with no legislative action or regulatory directive, the government is announcing that it is “partnering” with the locals to get data on every use of force. To be clear, the government doesn’t have complete data on shootings and killings by law enforcement because the reissue of DCRA was toothless to begin with. While there will be law enforcement agencies that cooperate, the vast majority of them have no incentive to share information on whom they kill, and even less to collect and share information on how many faces they beat to a pulp or limbs they break.
The fact that we even have the DCRA is a positive note in that the legislature has admitted there is a problem and it needs to be monitored. The DOJ wants to be seen as doing something and so does the President. The White House released a “Fact Sheet” in April and among those dubious “facts” was a list of 53 police agencies (out of 15,000+) across the country who have committed to the President’s Police Data Initiative. Among them, a who’s who of the worst offenders with whom policing has plagued us:
- Albuquerque, NM
- Baltimore, PD
- Los Angeles, CA
- Oakland, CA
- San Francisco, CA
- Denver, CO
- Seattle, WA
For those unaware, police don’t like to share information; they like to collect it. They are very good at collecting it when it benefits their ability to control and disrupt communities and horrible at keeping tabs on themselves. The policing mindset that’s been allowed to grow in this country through lack of accountability for officers, leadership and organizations is one of taking, not sharing. Cops, along with their prosecutorial handlers and judicial enablers, already have plenty of methods for obfuscation and withholding pertinent information. Avoiding actual cooperation with the federal government while appearing to comply should be no problem for local police departments.
So what to do?
Some organizations have taken it upon themselves to collect as much information about police as possible. One such outfit is the CATO institute, who has a website called the National Police Misconduct Reporting Project. The site is collections of news articles detailing various forms of misconduct by police across the country. On a given day there are eight to twelve links to news stories or updates about cops breaking the law, injuring, killing or somehow abusing their authority.
Anyone who has ever worked in public defense can tell you that’s a low number. CATO has a lot of things going on and can’t be expected to find every instance of misconduct. That is why it’s important for every public defender, non-profit public defense contractor and every private criminal defense firm to assign someone in their office to spend time every week scouring the state news outlets for stories of police misconduct.
Every good public defender already at least has some sort of file on as many cops as possible. This information might even include how the cop acts when being interviewed by an investigator, or demeanor on the witness stand. It can include defense witness statements made on behalf of former clients where the witness gave an account of police misconduct, or even surveillance video. It is widely known that prosecutors will withhold evidence, including past conduct of their witness officer. Having your own Brady file gives defense attorneys and investigators a leg-up. Any snippet of information can go in the file.
As for scanning state news accounts every week, it’s important for a couple of reasons other than the obvious. One is that cops can quit before they get investigated for criminal behavior or policy violations, become a Gypsy and wind-up in your jurisdiction, where both you and your local news outlet never heard of them. The other is that news accounts online don’t exist for an eternity. An example of this is the CATO site mentioned above.
Originally the site which went-up in 2009 was called ‘Injustice Everywhere.” If you punch that in to a Google search it will take you to the CATO site. It was run by a guy who was struggling to keep afloat during the recession. At the time he decided to give-up on it for financial reasons there was nothing like it online, so he put it out there and asked someone to come forward to take it over.
The responses from various outfits and individuals offering to take the helm were published on Injustice Everywhere and he chose the folks at CATO. But go online and try to find his name. You can find it on one CopBlock site, but even there it doesn’t tell the whole story. Once you get his name try to find anything else about him; good luck.
This can happen to stories about police misconduct too; they just sort of vanish or get buried. That’s why collecting and keeping a backup of as much as you can find for your state is a valuable endeavor even though it takes time and a person to do it.
It doesn’t contribute to the national repository of information the feds have ambitiously announced but if everyone involved in criminal defense is watching the watchers we can at least keep this information alive and useful on a local level where it counts the most.