Last Sunday’s editorial “Better data on officer-involved shootings needed” pointed out that state and federal government do not keep statistics of officer-involved shootings. The FBI collects extensive data about crime and has one division that compiles detailed information on officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty. But, the editorial stated: “when it comes to civilians dying at the hands of police, what information does exist is spotty and of dubious accuracy. There is not even a comprehensive list of the nation’s police excessive-use-of-force reports, though Congress required the reporting of such data 20 years ago.”
The shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., and the civil unrest that followed highlighted the concern of what seems to be a growing common occurrence. But we have no way of knowing because records are not kept. Last week’s Conversation asked readers to respond the two questions: Should records be kept on officer-involved shootings? How would the public benefit from that data?
Robert Gorham – Of course they should. This is not a police state or a military zone. It is public service and the public is owed the information on what is being performed in their name.
Leah Penn – Give me a break! Of course the records are kept! And the records should be kept completely confidential and never open to any public review. There is no benefit at all for the public to see these as it leads to public distress, just like the ridiculous situation at hand. The public’s ignorance, misunderstanding and poor opinions of why police shoot people are the reason the police are now dealing with the problems in Ferguson, Mo. Unless you are a police officer or related to one, you will never understand the importance of case confidentiality.
Joni Anderson – I disagree. Poor relations are usually the result of a lack of transparency. When community members, clergy, politicians and police meet on a regular basis to discuss issues, everyone comes out with a greater understanding of a community’s problems. Only when issues are put out for all to see can they be discussed and addressed. That is when greater trust is developed among all parties.
Leah Penn – Greater trust? People should trust our police officers without needing to see confidential cases. Plus, the public has not been trained like our officers have. So, it’s ridiculous for the public to have input.
Joni Anderson – Without information on any number of subjects, we fail to realize when there are real problems that need to be addressed. Just because things seem great where you live doesn’t mean that other areas of the country are the same. Knowing where problems exist and what the possible causes are allow citizens to identify and address problems. Yes, statistics and data should be kept and shared with the media. When any organization starts to believe they are not accountable to anyone but others in their own profession, a power structure starts to develop that can become dangerous if not led by the right individuals with a consciousness about who they serve. Many police officers serve the public every day in an admirable manner, but there are a number of areas in this country that are living in the past with racism and bigotry, and some of the officers in these areas need to be weeded out of law enforcement. Any profession is a reflection of the citizenry. Clearly, we live in a society that has good and bad people. We have seen cases of bad doctors, teachers, politicians, religious entities, realtors, insurance agents, etc., etc. Law enforcement officers are no exception.
Amreet Sandhu – Yes. See Portland, Oregon’s model, where an independent police review office is based in the city auditor’s office, and issues recommendations with citizen input.
Christina BreAnn – I think the issues with law enforcement are similar to the issues we have with many of our government agencies. It is not so much a problem of individuals, but a problem of the system as a whole. Police officers in every city of every state risk their lives every single day to protect the public and much of that goes unnoticed and unrecognized by the media and general public. That is not to say highly problematic situations don’t occur – they definitely do and should not be disregarded. It seems to me our outrage and efforts toward change would be more accurately directed further up the food chain than individual men and women involved in the incidents.