Eric D'Orazio: The FBI: It may conjure up images of raid jackets, arrests, and stopping criminals and terrorists. But you may not know that the FBI is also in the business of collecting crime data—lots of it. For more than 90 years, the FBI has been collecting this data to help keep the public safe.
And now, the FBI is also collecting and sharing data on police use-of-force incidents.
A use-of-force incident occurs when a law enforcement officer takes an action that results in someone’s death or serious injury. Use of force incidents also include when a law enforcement officer fires a weapon at or in the direction of someone, even if that person isn’t seriously harmed or killed.
The FBI is gathering this information to promote transparency and help communities make data-driven decisions.
In this episode of Inside the FBI, we’ll look at the National Use-of-Force Data Collection, which marks its first public release this week. You’ll hear from Section Chief Trudy Ford of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division.
I’m your host, Eric D’Orazio and this is Inside the FBI.
D'Orazio: In the 1920s, police departments around the country found themselves struggling to combat crime—what they really needed was a nationwide picture of crime data.
In 1929, the Uniform Crime Reporting Program was created to collect that data, and a year later, the FBI began to manage it. The program helps police and communities understand crime trends and send resources where they’re needed most.
Trudy Ford: When you hear on the news that the FBI says crime is up or down, all of that information is coming from the FBI's Uniform Crime Report. And I think as a citizen, it's always good to educate yourself on trends. Law enforcement uses this information to help bolster training and target areas of opportunity, local and state government officials use this information for a variety of reasons. Lawmakers also use this to consider potential legislation that may need to occur as a result of some of this information.
D'Orazio: That’s Trudy Ford, a section chief in the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, or CJIS. It’s the office within the FBI that collects and distributes crime data.
In recent years, law enforcement leaders have asked the FBI to collect data on law enforcement use of force incidents, just like we’ve done with crime data. There have been a number of high-profile incidents involving the police, and both police and communities are asking for national data.
Ford: Police-involved shootings and the use the force have long been topics of national discussion, but with recent high profile cases, it has heightened the public's awareness of this topic. And so we see this as an opportunity to report information that, from the law enforcement community's perspective, makes sure that we're accountable and transparent to the public while telling the entire story. And up until this point, there's been a lack of data in order to share this from a national perspective.
D'Orazio: So in 2015, the FBI created the National Use-of-Force Data Collection. Since then, the FBI has worked with its law enforcement partners to encourage them to participate in the data collection, although participation is voluntary.
Ford: It is a voluntary collection, and we are collecting incidents resulting in the death or serious bodily injury of a person or when law enforcement discharges their firearm at, or in the direction of a person. This collection is not meant to offer insight into a single incident, but rather a comprehensive view of the circumstances, subjects, and officers involved from a nationwide perspective.
D'Orazio: But under federal regulations, the data can’t be released to the public until a certain participation threshold is met. The key numbers are 40%, 60%, and 80%.
Recently, the FBI reached 40 percent participation in the program—meaning 40% of sworn law enforcement officers in the U.S. are included in the reporting. So, the FBI can now release its first batch of data in the National Use-of-Force Data Collection.
The information released this week includes a list of participating agencies, the total number of agencies reporting, and the total number of officers in all of those agencies. Additionally, if a particular state has at least a 40% participation rate, some state level-information will also be included.
More data about individual incidents will be shared with the public as more agencies start reporting their data to the FBI.
Ford: At 60%, we're then able to provide a little bit more information to include the national, federal, regional, and state level information. And then at 80%, we do not have any conditions imposed upon us related to the publication. So, we will also be able to provide information such as the incident itself, more details, the officer, and the subject.
D'Orazio: Until the next two milestones are reached, the FBI will continue to encourage agencies to share their data. Ford’s team has given trainings and talks on the importance of the data. Even if an agency has zero use-of-force incidents for a year, that’s critically important information for the national picture on the use-of-force issue.
Ford: We've tried to make it as simple as possible for them to participate and tried to lessen the burden as much as possible.
D'Orazio: If you’d like to see this data, including whether your local law enforcement agency is participating in the collection, visit the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer at fbi.gov/cde.
Ford: Law enforcement community members have told us that they want to tell the whole story. They want to be accountable and transparent to the public they serve.
D'Orazio: Transparency and accountability are why the FBI and law enforcement partners will continue to collect this critical data. We want to help communities across the country understand and address this difficult and important issue.
Thanks for joining me for this look at the National Use-of-Force Data Collection.
To learn more about the collection, visit fbi.gov/useofforce. To view the recent data collection release, visit the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer at fbi.gov/cde.
This has been another production of Inside the FBI. I’m Eric D’Orazio from the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs. Thanks again for tuning in.
The FBI has released the 2019 data submitted by 5,043 federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies to the National Use-of-Force Data Collection.