Accessible, reliable data on the performance and impacts of law enforcement is critical to reform efforts. However, the existence of missing, incomplete or inaccessible data creates challenges in understanding police activities and outcomes. For example, restrictions and limitations in data collection complicate efforts to understand contextual factors surrounding police-involved killings. Because no single entity systematically tallies confirmed cases of people killed by law enforcement or compiles fully verified, comprehensive details on contextual factors surrounding each case, it is difficult to know important facts or have a complete understanding of these cases. 

Such limitations make it challenging to discern the degree of racial disparity in the criminal justice system and thus establish an accurate baseline against which to measure change. Thus, the lack of reliable data imposes further limitations on the effective creation and analysis of reforms. 

Trust, legitimacy and transparency are essential to our democracy. 

Federal leadership and incentives are needed to improve the collection and sharing of data on use of force and other police activities. To that end, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (“OSTP”) put out a request for information regarding criminal justice statistics. OSTP specifically asked for input to help them understand the current data collection, use, and transparency practices of State, Tribal, local, territorial (“STLT”) law enforcement agencies, best practice examples and lessons learned regarding those efforts, and recommendations for building capacity among STLT law enforcement agencies to transparently collect and use data.

Democracy Forward partnered with the Council on Criminal Justice (CCJ) and their Task Force on Policing on a submission to OSTP – based on findings from the Task Force’s report, The Path to Progress: Five Priorities for Police Reform, outlining a series of recommendations in response to OSTP’s efforts to address gaps in criminal justice data collection. 

The Council also recently established a Crime Trends Working Group to explore and explain current crime trends, while building consensus for significant improvements in the nation’s capacity to produce timely, accurate, and complete crime data. The working group will also examine federal-state relationships, identify best practices, and make recommendations that will strengthen these relationships.

Read the submission and full list of recommendations here.