Make Your Comment: Justice Department Must Report Police Killings

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In this country, we know how many people are killed by vending machines and party balloons, falling TV sets and playground swing sets. But somehow, we still don't know how many people are killed by the police.

The federal government doesn’t collect data on police killings despite its legal mandate to do so. Instead, we mainly rely on voluntary self-reporting by police agencies. Yet fewer than 3% of police agencies actually report, and when they do, they miss roughly half of all deaths, according to FiveThirtyEight. And even if police agencies collect this data, they often withhold it altogether out of concern for public image and liability.

This lack of transparency is unacceptable: Congress already made moves to fix this problem in 2014 by passing the Death in Custody Reporting Act, which requires states and all law enforcement agencies to report arrest-related deaths and other deaths in custody. Without this data, the government cannot enact measures to decrease police killings. But the Justice Department – headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions – has postponed implementation of the DCRA until 2020. That’s a full six years after it was signed into law.

This is literally a matter of life and death for thousands of people. When the Justice Department did its own count between 2015 and 2016, it estimated that 1,900 people were killed by police in a year – and because of our poor, piecemeal reporting procedures, that's likely a gross underestimate. If this trend continues, almost 10,000 people will have been killed by the police in the time it took the Justice Department to start enforcing DCRA. That's over 10,000 lives that – at the very least – should have been counted.

Police are rarely held accountable for killing unarmed people – and their victims are disproportionately people of color and people with disabilities. That's why we need to act now: The government must require states and police departments to report full and accurate data on police-caused fatalities. This is essential if we want to see real accountability and transparency from our law enforcement officers.

Midterm elections are fast approaching, so now is the time to make our voices heard. Make your public comment: Sessions' Justice Department must honor federal law and enforce the Death in Custody Reporting Act.

NOTE: When you submit a public comment, your comment and the information you submit may be visible as part of the public record.

To Attorney General Jeff Sessions:

You must immediately enforce the Death in Custody Reporting Act before thousands more police killings go uncounted. Your decision to postpone the enforcement of DCRA until 2020 – a full six years after it was signed into law – fails to honor Congress' call for accountability and transparency, and will come at a high human cost.