FBI Director James Comey on Monday announced that the federal government will start collecting more data on police shootings for a new report on use of force incidents.
Historically, the FBI has collected numbers from local police departments on violent crimes and other offenses. The agency also collects data on justifiable homicides — defined as "the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty" — as well as killings and assaults on law enforcement officers. But the agency could never definitely say how many people were dying at the hands of police, the circumstances of their deaths, or who they were.
In the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, a Wall Street Journal analysis found hundreds of fatal police shootings were uncounted in the federal statistics. The lack of information prompted projects by news organizations, including the Guardian and the Washington Post, to provide more information about the scope of police shootings in the U.S.
In a statement Monday, Comey cited the ongoing debate on police use of force and said the FBI would seek more information from law enforcement agencies on shootings involving police and civilians. Once the FBI receives the data, he said the agency would release a special publication on use of force.
"We hope this information will become part of a balanced dialogue in communities and in the media — a dialogue that will help to dispel misperceptions, foster accountability, and promote transparency in how law enforcement personnel relate to the communities they serve," Comey said.
Comey also called for every law enforcement agency to submit its crime statistics into the National Incident-Based Reporting System, a database that includes information on the circumstances surrounding a crime. Only about a third of agencies are currently using the database, he said.
Comey also asked for patience from media and the public as the FBI works to provide more complete crime data, which he described as a "tremendous effort."
"But to continue in our current system without comprehensive data only stalls meaningful conversation and fuels empty debates, both within law enforcement and in the communities we serve," he said.