The Minutia of Record Keeping?


This snippet below is from the Guardian –

In a conversation with NBC journalist Chuck Todd on a range of criminal justice issues, Lynch said on Thursday that she does not support a federal mandate to report people killed by police.

“One of the things we are focusing on at the Department of Justice is not trying to reach down from Washington and dictate to every local department how they should handle the minutia of record keeping, but we are stressing to them that these records must be kept,” she said at the Washington Ideas Forum, hosted by AtlanticLIVE and the Aspen Institute.


Here’s what I think.

Whether or not a police department kills someone is not a part of the “minutia of record keeping.” 

If we as a people acting through the federal government cannot demand that law enforcement agencies tell us when they kill people, what powers do we have? Are we somehow getting into their “business” when we ask law enforcement to tell us about the minutia of record keeping concerning police shootings?

The only good source for shootings by law enforcement in the United States is the Guardian. Look at it here.  I shouldn’t have to go to a private web site to find criminal justice statistics.

Okay, I’m not a neophyte. I understand the drill. If we actually collect the data, it isn’t going to look good. I already know part of the story from previous research. Some law enforcement agencies have a lot of shootings while many agencies never kill anyone at all. And if that isn’t bad enough, who gets shot and why also varies dramatically from place to place. If you’ve been following the news, once again, you know who I am talking about, the mentally ill. They get shot by law enforcement regularly and under widely varying circumstances.

If the feds require law enforcement agencies to disclose their killings, the world of policing will come under a lot of scrutiny. It is in the interest of many departments not to have their shootings publicized. Why?

In the United States, policing varies dramatically. Some police departments do it right. They don’t get much publicity because competent, professional police departments tend to have fewer PR disasters. But there are “rogue” police departments where there are a lot of shootings, a lot of excessive force and regular charges of corruption. I suspect that a culture that encourages shootings has a downside in other parts of policing.

If the numbers are publicized – if every police shooting is scrutinized, there are going to be changes. As long as police departments are measured only by local or state standards, change is slow and haphazard but if every department is held up to national standards, many people will be surprised at how poorly many of these agencies stack up.

And that is why the feds should require mandatory reporting of law enforcement shootings, to bring national scrutiny to a national problem. This isn’t some book keeping issue. It is a vital issue of what kind of justice we believe in. When law enforcement kills, there is no trial, no peaceful resolution. These kinds of shootings should always be matters of necessity.

James Pilant