While nearly 1,000 people have been killed by police this year alone, it’s hard to know if that number is accurate — local police departments are on a voluntary self-reporting basis that doesn’t mandate them to send data to the FBI for recording.
It may be because of that ineffective system that Tamir Rice and Eric Garner — two high-profile police brutality victims of the previous year — were left off the federal government’s official record of homicides by officers. In fact, out of 18,000 law enforcement agencies across the United States, 17,776 refused to provide such data, The Guardian reports.
Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI, said exclusions were inevitable because the program remained voluntary. “We have no way of knowing how many incidents may have been omitted,” Fischer said in an email.
The data is so spotty, in fact, that the New York City police department “submitted data for just one year during the past decade,” the site writes. The year Garner died was left off that list.
Erica Garner, Garner’s daughter, said she was “outraged but not shocked” by the omission. “It’s just another part of the cover-up and erasing of his murder from the record,” Garner said. “It says to the NYPD and the city and state of New York that my father’s life doesn’t matter.”
No other department in the state of New York had any homicides by officers recorded by the FBI during the decade except for one, by Rochester in 2006. In its annual Firearms Discharge Reports, NYPD has recorded 117 “subjects shot and killed by officers” between 2004 and 2014. Its total of 13 shooting deaths for 2006, however, exceeded the 10 reported to the FBI that year, the only 12-month period in which the department participated in the FBI’s count.
Obtaining accurate data on police killings isn’t just the demand of Black Lives Matter activists who have long called for comprehensive change in both the number of people the police kill with impunity and truthful recording. Barack Obama’s White House policing task force recommended comprehensive recordings as did U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch after she received blowback from her comments that the federal government should not require police to report fatal shootings of civilians.
“Police shootings are not minutiae at all,” Lynch said. “Unfortunately, my comments gave the misperception that we were changing our view in some way about the importance of this data. Nothing could be further from the truth. This data is not only vital, we are working very closely with law enforcement to develop national consistent standards for collecting this kind of information.”
For more information on the federal government’s flawed (and voluntary) police killings recordings, read The Guardian’s report here.