Policing Reform Proposals Offer Some Common, Bipartisan Ground on Key Data Provisions

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Policing Reform Proposals Offer Some Common, Bipartisan Ground on Key Data Provisions

Over the past week, Republicans and Democrats separately released proposals to address systemic racism and excessive use of force in law enforcement. Both bills have major reforms for data systems related to the law enforcement community, in addition to other priorities. The data activities highlight room for potential bipartisan collaboration and agreement on improving the evidence and information available for decision-makers and the American people.  

Below are key similarities and differences in two of the data provisions in the proposals in common.  

National Level Registry of Police Conduct

Both would establish a national registry for use of force incidents but differ in the specific data required and accessibility. 

The House Democrats’ Justice in Policing Act would create a National Police Misconduct Registry (Sections 201-202), which would be available to the public, following the privacy protections provided for in the Privacy Act of 1974. This registry would contain:

  • Credible complains or complaints that resulted in disciplinary action of the law enforcement officer, disaggregated by whether the complaint involved use of force
  • Complaints that are pending review
  • Complaints for which the officer was exonerated
  • Discipline records
  • Termination records, including reasons for termination
  • Records of lawsuits and settlements made against the officer

 The Senate Republicans’ “Just and Unifying Solutions To Invigorate Communities  Everywhere Act of 2020” (JUSTICE Act) would create a similar database (Title III), requiring law enforcement agencies to compile data for:

  • Disciplinary records, defined as any “written document regarding substantiated and adjudicated complaints that results in adverse action by the law enforcement agency or criminal change”
  • Officer commendations 

Rather than retain records of complaints for which the officer was exonerated, like in the House bill, the Senate bill would remove those records if the complaint was overturned on appeal. This proposal would also restrict access to only those who submit records or reviewing records for hiring purposes, and would not be publicly available. 

The two proposals differ in how they propose to get law enforcement agencies to adopt the use of these databases. The Senate bill would require by law that the database be searched prior to a hiring decision. The House bill would de-certify any law enforcement agency that does not comply with reporting requirements, making them ineligible for certain federal grants.

Use-of-Force Data Collection for statistical purposes

In addition to the registry, each bill seeks to improve or initiate use of force data collection for the federal government. While the registry proposals may be intended to provide insights into personnel matters for individual officers, these data collections are intended to provide an aggregate view of uses of force and develop disclosable summary statistics to inform future policy responses. 

The Senate bill would amend the existing National Use-of-Force data collection at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). This provision would make it a requirement for state and local agencies to report on use of force events that involve fatalities or serious bodily injury from state and local governments that receive federal funding. Currently, reporting is voluntary. Current data elements include basic demographic information on both the subject and the officer, as well as a description of the event including tactics used by any officer present. 

The House bill creates a new database with information reported to the Attorney General, rather than the FBI. This bill requires similar information to be collected as in the existing National Use-of-Force data collection but would expand collected information to include school resource officers, incidents covered in arrests and bookings, as well as any deaths in custody. It also expands some of the demographic information for the reports, including by document subjects’ English language proficiency, housing status, and disability status. 

Both bills would require this information to be reported annually with public disclosure, subject to privacy protections. But only the House bill requires data to be submitted using a standardized form. The House proposal also directs the Bureau of Justice Statistics to analyze data for racial disparities and to issue an annual report to Congress

Data for evidence-based policymaking is needed

While there are obvious differences in these two bills, there is emerging agreement that data on use of force and other policing policies are needed to inform future decision-making and to provide ongoing transparency and accountability.