The head of the FBI is pushing back against allegations that police have been gunning down black men at historic rates.
In weekend remarks at the annual convention of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyHillary 2024? Given the competition, she may be the Dems' best hope Trump draws attention with admission he 'fired Comey' Countering the ongoing Republican delusion MORE called for better statistics about police encounters that leave people dead and reiterated his concern about the “Ferguson effect” making officers’ jobs more difficult.
“As a country, we simply haven’t bothered to collect the data, to gather the information,” Comey said. “And in the absence of information, we have anecdotes, we have videos, we have good people believing something terrible is going on. In a nation of almost a million law enforcement officers and tens of millions of police encounters each year, a small group of videos serve as proof of an epidemic.”
“We must have a national database about our use of deadly force,” he added. “With accurate information, we can all get better.”
The federal government does not keep statistics about how many people are killed in police interactions, much to the dismay of activists and journalists. However, the FBI has launched a pilot program to begin collecting the data from police departments starting in 2017.
In the meantime, news outlets such as The Washington Post and the Guardian have begun tallying the statistics on their own, based on news reports and public records.
According to the Post, which this year won a Pulitzer Prize for its work on police shootings, there have been a total of 761 people shot and killed by police officers this year. Of those, 188 were black, 124 were Hispanic and the races of 60 were unknown.
The Guardian has found 849 cases of people killed by police, of which 204 were black and 134 were Hispanic. The races of another 73 people were unknown.
According to Comey, firm data about the number of people killed by police would help to restore the frayed relationships between police departments and minority communities, some of whom have been confronted with a steady stream of news stories about unarmed black men being killed by police.
“That is the narrative. It is a narrative driven by video images of real misconduct, possible misconduct, and perceived misconduct,” Comey said.
“That sense by good people that the police are doing terrible things has real costs,” he added, in a reference to the Ferguson effect. The alleged phenomenon, over which Comey has previously clashed with President Obama, claims that the proliferation of stories about police killing unarmed black men has turned communities against police officers and made them more hesitant to do aggressive police work. In turn, critics say, that leads to greater crime.
“The leaders we need know that this narrative makes it hard to gain our footing. It makes it hard for us to help people,” Comey said.
“The leaders we need ask questions: Do my officers get out of their car at midnight to ask a group of kids what their business is on a street corner? Do they stop the car with tinted windows that just ran a stop sign in a high-crime neighborhood?” he asked.
“Or, as you have told me, do they first ask themselves, ‘Could this get me famous or dead?’ And the answer changes policing and changes neighborhoods.”