The FBI will unveil a new system for counting the number of deaths caused by police in the U.S., which will take into consideration "deadly encounters" involving the use of tasers and other force, and not just fatal shootings as the current system does.
The move follows months of media and advocacy group criticism of its existing program for reporting fatal police shootings.
FBI criminal justice information services division spokesperson Stephen Fischer says that the bureau had “identified a need for more robust and complete information about encounters between law enforcement officers and citizens that result in a use of force.”
The new system will include statistics on all deadly incidents involving "physical force, tasers and blunt weapons used by officers as well as firearms,” adding that the bureau plans to begin gradually publishing additional information about fatal incidents in 2016.
For the past several years, the bureau has published an annual total of fatal shootings by police officers that are termed “justifiable homicides” but these statistics have been criticized as being flawed. The country’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies do not have to report any killings by their officers. In 2014 only 224 departments reported a killing. The FBI’s total number of deaths at police hands has ranged between 397 and 461 since 2009.
Databases compiled by the media show that since June 1 , 2015, there have been 1,058 deaths caused by law enforcement officers. One which is restricted to fatal shootings by police officers, shows 913 fatal police shooting so far for 2015.
FBI Director James Comey says it is “ridiculous and embarrassing” that the media kept better data of the deaths at police hands than the government did.
“That is not good for anybody,” he says, adding “such details as age, sex, and race of the officers and subjects” will be published by the FBI from now on, as well as the background circumstances of each encounter and relationship between victim and the officer responsible.
Media investigations show these kind of details have been collected over the last ten years but have not made available to the public.
Brittany Packnett, a member of President Obama’s task force on 21st-century policing, says the FBI announcement should be just “the very first step” in official efforts to change and improve police accountability.
“I am anxious to see what the the FBI releases,” says Packnett. “I hope that it is released quickly and I hope, with as much urgency, they will also to do something about it. Frankly, I’m glad to see the FBI and another branch of the federal government catching up to what the people have been demanding for a long time.”