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FBI launched database on police use of force last year, but only police participated in low numbers

This combination of photos provided by the Atlanta Police Department shows Officer Garrett Rolfe, left and Officer Devin Brosnan. Rolfe, who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks in the back after the fleeing man pointed a stun gun in his direction.
This combination of photos provided by the Atlanta Police Department shows Officer Garrett Rolfe, left and Officer Devin Brosnan. Rolfe, who fatally shot Rayshard Brooks in the back after the fleeing man pointed a stun gun in his direction.Atlanta Police Department via Associated Press

WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, President Trump signed an executive order calling for, among other things, the establishment of a database on police use of force. On Wednesday, Senate Republicans included a similar provision in their own reform bill. But the FBI already has such a database — and so far a majority of police are not participating in it.

The FBI launched that program, the National Use-of-Force Data Collection project, last year. Now, with another wave of protests against police brutality gripping the country, many police agencies have not responded to the voluntary call for information about their officers — only 40 percent submitted their data for 2019, the FBI said. And the database has yet to be published. The first report is planned for this summer.

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In his executive order on police practices issued Tuesday, Trump called for ‘‘a database to coordinate the sharing of information’’ between law enforcement agencies on ‘‘instances of excessive use of force related to law enforcement matters,’’ and said that the attorney general ‘‘shall regularly and periodically make available to the public aggregated and anonymized data from the database.’’ It was not immediately clear if the FBI’s Use-of-Force project will be the vehicle for that order.

Trump’s order also states that federal funds should be withheld if a police department doesn’t submit its data, as does the bill submitted by Senate Republicans on Wednesday.

For decades, the FBI has collected crime data from police departments across the country, in its Uniform Crime Reports, and participation there is nearly 100 percent. But as with the annual crime reports, participation in the Use-of-Force project is voluntary.

In a statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday night, Steven R. Casstevens, the chief of the Buffalo Grove, Ill., police and president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said that ‘‘participation in the national database collection effort should be mandatory.’’

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He said the data would help both law enforcement and the community ‘‘better identify and understand the totality of incidents, trends associated with use-of-force incidents, and other outlying factors. It will also increase transparency on a national level.’’

Casstevens said that making use-of-force reporting mandatory might mean tying it to existing federal grant funding, and he said the ‘‘IACP recommends those that intentionally fail to participate in the National Use of Force database, be excluded from receiving federal grant funds or receive reduced amounts.’’

A little over a year ago, at a meeting of the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association in Miami Beach, the head of the FBI’s criminal justice information services division subtly implored her audience of top police executives to get on board.

At that May 2019 meeting, Amy Blasher told the chiefs that as of that month, 19.6 percent of the nation’s departments were participating, or about 2,200.

Thirty-nine of the 69 US cities in the Major Cities group had filed data then, Blasher said.

She also reassured the chiefs that the project would not release any individual agency’s data to the public, though each agency’s crime data are released in the Uniform Crime Reports. But Blasher said there would be a public list of which agencies contributed. The FBI has declined to release a list of which agencies participated in 2019.

FBI spokeswoman Holly Morris last week said, ‘‘The goal of this collection is not to offer insight into single incidents, but to provide a comprehensive view of the circumstances, subjects, and officers involved in use-of-force incidents nationwide.’’

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