The Justice Department is Finally Going to Start Collecting Data on Police Shootings

Police have fatally shot 754 people so far this year in the U.S.

That statistic doesn't come from the federal government, but rather a database maintained by The Washington Post. Why? Because up until this point in time, there has been no nationwide data kept on fatal police encounters.

President Obama appointed a commission in 2014 to study ways of improving relations between police departments and the communities they serve following recorded fatal instances between unarmed black men and the police in places like Baltimore, Charlotte and Ferguson. The Justice Department announced on Thursday a pilot program based on recommendations from that commission. But Kanya Bennett, a lawyer in Washington for the American Civil Liberties Union, feels that the process has been too slow. 

“I can’t believe two years into this crisis that we’re still having conversations about data,” Bennett told The New York Times

James B. Comey, the director of the F.B.I, told the House Judiciary Committee last October, ““We can’t have an informed discussion because we don’t have data.”

The program will begin collecting data in early 2017. The F.B.I. will collect data from 178,000 agents at major federal law enforcement agencies. Local and state law enforcement agencies are required to report instances of fatal encounters and can voluntarily report instances nonlethal encounters. Under the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which was passed by Congress in 2014, the attorney general can impose financial penalties on states that fail to report data. 

"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, according to NPR.

There are still some kinks that will need to be worked out by the pilot program, such as how financial penalties will be imposed on departments that fail to report data, but the initiative is a huge step in the right direction for making meaningful change in community-police relations.