Hold the Applause.
By: Matilda Hurst (Note: CIP encourages interns to research and write about criminal justice issues during their time here. These are the opinions of the interns, and not necessarily that of the California Innocence Project.)
“The narrow definition of what constitutes a ‘reportable’ incident conceals the true picture and the reliance on self-reporting by Law Enforcement Agencies raises questions on the credibility of the data.”
In August of 2017 the Department of Justice (DOJ), released the first ever report of incidents involving the use of force by the Californian police, The Use of Force Incident Reporting 2016. This is a big step forward in terms of disclosure of these incidents. Perhaps the DOJ warrants praise for this shift towards disclosure, however, let’s hold the applause for now. The report has major flaws and does not provide us with the full story. The narrow definition of what constitutes a ‘reportable’ incident conceals the true picture and the reliance on self-reporting by Law Enforcement Agencies raises questions on the credibility of the data.
Law Enforcement Agencies are only required to report use of force incidents that result in serious bodily injury, death of either the civilian or the officer, and all incidents where there is a discharge of a firearm. So, incidents that would end up public record anyway are the ones that are required to be disclosed. This essentially means that all the incidents of force where victims are injured but do not obtain medical assistance go unreported, leaving the public in the dark on just how many incidents of force there actually are each year.
The report points out that all agencies employing peace officers have the requirement to report incidents of force, however, it then goes on to tell us that not all agencies reported. The agencies give excuses such as leniency is needed due to this being the first year of reporting, and that the training and education is ongoing. Given the rise in allegations of excessive use of force across the country, the DOJ could have and certainly should have ensured data from all agencies was submitted. Allowing noncompliance not only damages the credibility of the report it also sends a message that the data is not all that important and that it is acceptable to conceal incidents from the public. The lack of transparency further harms the negative perceptions the public have of law enforcement.
The public deserves the right to know how police officers are performing their duties and how many citizens are victims of the use of unreasonable and/or excessive force. The incidents published are unacceptably high and racially unbalanced and one could reasonably assume that if all incidents were included, the gap between white and non-white citizens as victims of unreasonable force would only grow.
Although this is a step in the right direction, to receive any applause the DOJ must provide the public with real and credible data by redefining reportable incidents to include all incidents where force is employed. Additionally, they must ensure full compliance of reporting by all agencies.