Missouri lawmakers want police departments around the state to report instances when force was used on duty to an FBI database to improve transparency and the relationships between residents and officers who serve them.
The FBI has created the National Use of Force Data Collection that keeps track of instances when police used force. Agencies around the country have been asked to contribute.
House Bill 998 would establish the Police Use of Force Transparency Act of 2021, which would require all law enforcement agencies in Missouri to collect and report local data on use-of-force incidents to the FBI database, excluding identifying information of individual officers.
Under this bill, the Missouri Department of Public Safety would accumulate the data collected by police departments around the state, compile it and send the numbers over to the FBI. That way, residents in the state could get a better understanding of how often their local police department uses force on the job.
State Rep. Bruce DeGroot, R-Ellisville, said he created the bill in response to instances of excessive police force over the summer.
"What it is intended to do is give our citizens clear information about what's going on with their own police departments," he said in a Monday hearing. "It's a pretty simple concept. The FBI has created a national database, and thus far only four states are taking advantage of it."
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The FBI began collecting data on use of force in January 2019 for compiling national statistics. This information is voluntarily submitted to the FBI platform, and there are currently more than 7,000 enrolled agencies across the country, with Texas, California, Connecticut and Colorado being the most open states so far.
According to the database, only 17 of 631 agencies in Missouri participated and provided use-of-force data in 2020. Among those agencies are the St. Louis Police Department and the Missouri Highway Patrol.
DeGroot explained the bill would help authorities identify hotspots in the state with the most police use-of-force incidents and fix problems in police's methods.
He believes the bill will improve relations between residents and law enforcement, as he said residents would see there are relatively few acts of excessive force in comparison with all that officers do.
DeGroot said it's rare to hear about positive interactions residents have with police. He compared it with airplane crashes.
"We don't care about all the flights that are completed safely, we hear about that one where it crashed and killed 50 people," he said. "And it's the same way with use of force with police: we don't hear about all the positive interactions."
Jared Meyer, a senior policy advisor for the Cicero Institute, a nonprofit policy group that focuses on data-driven solutions to public policy problems, testified in support of the bill. He said for the first time on record that the majority of Americans do not trust law enforcement and that he sees it as a problem.
"What we've seen throughout the country is that this mistrust in law enforcement has led to a rise in crime that is threatening public safety," Meyer said. "The reason we support these efforts is because more data will help lead to more trust in law enforcement."
The 2014 death of Michael Brown, an 18-year-old Black man shot by a police officer in Ferguson, started a nationwide questioning on the lack of fatal police shooting records. Before the FBI launched its National Use of Force Data Collection, the Washington Post started a database in 2015 that documented that nearly 1,000 people yearly are shot and killed by police officers nationwide. According to the database, Missouri officers have killed 151 people since 2015.
In addition to House Bill 998, Missouri House members discussed last week a bill that would prohibit the use of chokeholds maneuvers by police officers, as well as one appealing for a written policy for investigations on officer-related deaths.
The work of the Missouri News Network is written by Missouri School of Journalism students and editors for publication by Missouri Press Association member newspapers.