The Department of Justice will finally start collecting data on police killings

Charlotte protestsSean Rayford/Getty ImagesPolice officers face off with protesters on the I-85 (Interstate 85) during protests in the early hours of September 21, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The protests began last night, following the fatal shooting of 43-year-old Keith Lamont Scott by a police officer at an apartment complex near UNC Charlotte.

The Department of Justice announced on Thursday that it will begin tracking instances of police killings and use of force in early 2017, using data from law enforcement agencies across the country.

“Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations,” Attorney General Loretta Lynch said Thursday.

The announcement follows FBI Director James Comey’s statement during a September congressional hearing that the FBI would have a working database tracking police officers’ deadly use of force within two years.

The pilot program, under the purview of the FBI, will not only gather the data, but evaluate its quality and its collection methodology, according to the DOJ.

It’s the most comprehensive effort the federal government has made so far in recording violent and fatal police encounters.

Until now, police killings have been tracked mostly by media outlets such as the Washington Post and The Guardian, which recorded 754 and 847 people killed by police in 2016, respectively.

The program’s effort to track nonfatal police encounters and “in-custody” deaths is notable — state and federal law enforcement agencies are required to report fatal police encounters to the DOJ, as per 2014’s Death in Custody Reporting Act, but there’s still no legal requirement for police departments to report non-fatal encounters.

Some have questioned why the DOJ’s database is coming so late in President Obama’s administration. Fatal police shootings have been at the forefront of the public’s consciousness for several years, most notably since the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Missouri.

“This is essentially being punted to the next administration,” Kanya Bennett, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, told the New York Times.

“I can’t believe two years into this crisis that we’re still having conversations about data.”

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