FBI to launch new system to track police killings
Patrolmen take roll call and get their assignments in Providence, R.I. (David DelPoio for USA TODAY)
Patrolmen take roll call and get their assignments in Providence, R.I. (David DelPoio for USA TODAY)

Last updated 12:24 p.m. EST Jan. 8, 2016
By Jenna Adamson, USA TODAY

Responding to public outcry in recent months about police shootings, the FBI decided in December to implement a new strategy for its collection of data related to civilian injuries and deaths at the hands of police. Databases of police shootings compiled by The Washington Post and The Guardian have drawn attention to the limitations of the FBI’s “justifiable homicide” data collection. While The Post reported nearly 1,000 fatal shootings by police in 2015, the FBI recorded only about 400 justifiable homicides annually between 2010 and 2014.

Stephen Fischer Jr., chief of multimedia productions for the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, said the Advisory Policy Board for CJIS recommended “a five-year transition from the Summary Based Reporting System, which contains limited data, to the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).” Fischer declined to comment on the details of the new system, but he said it would rely on voluntary reporting by agencies and local police departments.

Police, civilian deaths across USA
Police, civilian deaths across USA

Critics of the current system say the voluntary nature of justifiable homicide reporting is what makes it so unreliable and inaccurate. Stephen Morris, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, told the Chicago Tribune that the FBI would be “relying on peer pressure and financial incentives” to encourage compliance. Morris also hopes to create a Turbo Tax-like form that would facilitate local police departments’ reporting. He said the new system would publicly collect data on police incidents in “near real-time,” rather than at the end of the year as it has done previously.

Fischer said NIBRS would expand reporting to include “details about multiple offenses committed during an incident along with details about offenders and victims.” This would bring the FBI’s collection closer to the detailed information gathered by The Guardian. Its database on people killed by police in the U.S. includes information about  each victim’s gender, race and whether the victim was armed.

A frame grab from a dashcam video released by Chicago Police. (Photo: Chicago Police via epa)
A frame grab from a dashcam video released by Chicago Police. (Photo: Chicago Police via epa)

The FBI’s proposed update comes after widespread public protests related to police fatal shootings of Michael Brown, Laquan McDonald, Walter Scott and others. A year ago, USA TODAY’s Editorial Board joined other voices calling for the tracking of all civilian deaths at the hands of police. In an editorial, the board cautioned, “But tracking will only happen with an unambiguous directive and mandated penalties.”

Even FBI Director James Comey remarked at a Washington summit on violent crime in October: “You can get online and figure out how many tickets were sold to The Martian. … The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) can do the same with the flu. … It’s ridiculous — embarrassing and ridiculous — that we can’t talk about crime in the same way, especially in the high-stakes incidents when your officers have to use force.”

Fischer said the FBI would release more details about the new system in the near future.