The day before the two-year anniversary of officer Darren Wilson killing Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the federal government made a historic announcement. For the first time in history, the state will keep count of the people it kills while enforcing the law.
One would think that this number would already be particularly important when considering the public service that is policing. However, there has been no attempt at all to ever accurately account for those sent to an early grave by armed agents of the state.
Before May of 2013, there wasn’t even an independent recording authority on how many citizens were killed by cops. The FBI loosely estimated that number to be around 500 citizens annually. However, as we’ve pointed out, an independent investigation conducted by the Wall Street Journal found that hundreds of police killings were missing from the FBI’s tally.
Police departments were told that submitting the number of people they kill every year is voluntary. Since no department wants to be marked with a black veil of death, only a slight fraction of the 19,400 police departments across the country submitted these statistics. This resulted in a grossly underestimated number.
It’s an admitted fact that police shot and killed 24-year-old Albert Payton in front of his D.C. apartment in August 2012. However, according to the national statistics system setup to track police killings, Payton’s death never happened.
Payton’s death, as well as over 550 other police killings from 2007-2012 never happened, according to the national count. Also, in dozens of other cases where the killing was reported, it was attributed to the wrong agency.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Law-enforcement experts have long lamented the lack of information about killings by police. “When cops are killed, there is a very careful account and there’s a national database,” said Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University. “Why not the other side of the ledger?”
Simple math would show us that since 9/11, at the FBI’s rate, police killed more than 7,000 people. However, that number is likely far higher now considering the numbers from outlets like Killed By Police, Cop Crisis, and the Counted who detail every public killing by American police.
The government’s new statistical data will now be calculated similarly to the sites above; only they have the power to compel police departments to report the data. According to the Federal Register’s Form CJ-11: Arrest-Related Deaths Quarterly Summary:
This form is distributed to all law enforcement agencies (LEAs). This summary form requests that LEA respondents confirm deaths identified through open-source review, correct decedent name and date of death as appropriate, and identify any other arrest-related deaths that were not found through open-source review. It requests any LEAs without any deaths to provide an affirmative zero.
According to the new reporting system, the information about the location and time of the incident, manner of death, the victim’s behavior during the incident, the reason for initial contact, and the victim’s race, age, and gender will all be submitted to the database.
The local coroner’s office will also be required to verify their information to the DOJ.
While this news is certainly promising, it should be taken with the grain of salt. Counting the number of deaths inflicted by one’s government is certainly eye-opening. However, it does nothing to stop those deaths.
All the federal oversight promised in the last two years has had absolutely no effect on decreasing the number of people killed by police in America.
Until Americans and their government wake up to the vicious cycle created by the war on drugs and policing for profit, the number of bodies, counted or not, will continue to pile up.