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As it stands, most police agencies in Washington state are not reporting this type of information through a program the FBI launched last year.
Washington state’s attorney general is recommending that the state require all law enforcement agencies to report information about police incidents involving the deadly use of force and for the information to be available to the public online.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson outlined the recommendations in a report to the state legislature. It comes amid a renewed national debate about police reform in the U.S. and widespread protests over Black Americans killed during encounters with law enforcement.
“There is currently no public, centralized location for information on deadly force by law enforcement in Washington,” Ferguson said in a statement. “The public expects and deserves access to this information. These common-sense, broadly supported policies are long overdue.”
Ferguson’s report calls for police departments in the state to share data on use-of-force incidents that result in death or serious physical injuries, as well as incidents where a firearm is discharged, regardless of whether the gunfire causes an injury.
Examples of data that Ferguson is recommending be disclosed include the police agencies involved, the type of force used by officers, any weapons used by a member of the public, what injuries officers and citizens suffer, and demographic characteristics of everyone involved.
Additionally, the attorney general’s blueprint suggests tracking and publicly sharing information about what agency or investigative team, if any, is looking into the incident and money paid out in lawsuits as a result of use-of-force incidents.
The FBI last year launched a national program to collect use-of-force data from police agencies, but that initiative is voluntary, and The Washington Post earlier this month reported that only about 40% of departments nationwide had turned in data for 2019
Ferguson’s report says only about 10% of Washington state’s police agencies are taking part in the FBI program, although these agencies together employ about 42% of law enforcement officers in the state.
In the near-term, the attorney general is recommending that lawmakers require police agencies to report data on all deadly use of force incidents through the FBI's program. It would be possible for the state administrator for the FBI initiative to extract the data coming from Washington agencies to use it elsewhere, the report says.
The attorney general's report suggests that the state create its own website with a searchable and downloadable repository of data. It notes that the FBI has so far not made plans to release the use of force data it collects at the individual agency level.
Determining how to move forward with a state-level data project would require convening stakeholders to come up with consistent definitions of the types of force and details about each incident that are subject to reporting requirements, according to the report.
Ferguson’s office submitted the recommendations to state lawmakers in response to a 2019 legislative directive included in the state budget.
It’s not the first time that the possibility of collecting data on use-of-force by and against police officers has come up in Washington. A state task force back in 2016 recommended taking steps along the lines of what Ferguson is now recommending.
In 2019 and 2020, state lawmakers introduced bills that would have imposed these types of data reporting requirements. But those measures failed to win approval in the legislature.
Bill Lucia is a senior reporter for Route Fifty and is based in Olympia, Washington.