Still Seeking Police Transparency: A Letter to the Office of Justice Programs

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The issue of police transparency came into sharp focus with the 2014 death of Tamir Rice. As BORDC/DDF reported in October of 2015, Rice’s death was not included in the federal government’s official record of homicides by police because there was no law requiring the police to report it. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives reacted to this omission by introducing a Police Reporting of Information, Data and Evidence (PRIDE) Act in 2015 but, sadly, as of this writing, S. 1476 has been read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, and H.R. 3481 has been introduced and referred to the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations.

While the bills sit in committee, the fight for complete reporting of police data to the federal government goes on. On March 1, 2016, BORDC/DFF signed on to a letter circulated by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and delivered to Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason. The letter (PDF), entitled “Request to Condition Federal Grants on Data Collection and Reporting & Provide Regulations on Deaths in Custody Reporting Act,” was signed by over 80 national, state, and local criminal justice, civil rights, human rights, faith-based, immigrants’ rights, disability rights, LGBTQ, and open government organizations. It demands the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) to do two very specific things:

  1. Only give federal criminal justice grants to state and local law enforcement agencies that conduct complete data collection and reporting on police-civilian encounters, and
  2. Issue regulations on the implementation of the Death in Custody Reporting Act (DCRA).

Why OJP must meet these demands

Through OJP, the federal government awards close to $4 billion in Department of Justice grants and programs each year. According to their website, “OJP works in partnership with the justice community to identify the most pressing crime-related challenges confronting the justice system and to provide information, training, coordination, and innovative strategies and approaches for addressing these challenges.” The signers of the letter to Assistant Attorney General Karol Mason believe that these challenges can only be addressed and confronted if there is full disclosure of all data relating to police-involved shootings and other incidents of excessive force. If a local or state agency requesting funding from OJP cannot do that, they should not receive OJP funding.

The DCRA provides data on fatal police use of force while people are in police custody but, as the letter states, it does not “require reporting non-fatal uses of force or uses of force during non-custodial encounters and it is not clear if the Attorney General will withhold federal funds from non-compliant jurisdictions.” We believe it should require reporting of this data, in the interest of transparency and in keeping with recommendations made in the final report of the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

BORDC/DFF is proud to be a part of the “Request to Condition Federal Grants on Data Collection and Reporting & Provide Regulations on Deaths in Custody Reporting Act” letter to Karol Mason. We must continue to use activism and keep trying to pass legislation that will hold the federal government accountable for police transparency in all cases.