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Increasing Law Enforcement Transparency to Improve Public and Police Safety

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On Thursday May 25, 2017 U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen and Cory Booker introduced legislation that aims to increase transparency and accountability to law enforcement agencies across the nation. The goal of this legislation is to reduce the use of force by and against police officers. Nicknamed PRIDE, the Police Reporting Information, Data, and Evidence Act would require states and Indian tribes to provide reports to the U.S. Justice Department every 3 months regarding any and all incidents during which a civilian is shot or seriously injured by a law enforcement officer as well as any incident during which a law enforcement officer is shot or seriously injured by a civilian.

As it is, the federal government does not require those types of incidents to be reported. There are, however, several voluntary incident-reporting programs, which are overseen by different federal agencies. The problem with having so many different agencies managing incident reporting is that there is incomplete data regarding the use of force by and against law enforcement. By centralizing the oversight of these reports while simultaneously requiring the reports to be made, changes can begin to be formed to better protect the public and the police.

“To fully address the issues of safety, trust, and equality in law enforcement, we first must understand the extent of the challenges we face” (2017), says Sen. Van Hollen. In a world where public faith in the police has fallen dramatically and videos of police brutality are plastered across social media, this type of legislation couldn’t have come at a better time. Without reliable data to interpret, effective changes to protect both the public and the police cannot be made.

Information reported to the Department of Justice under the PRIDE Act must include:

  • The national origin, sex, race, ethnicity, age, physical disability, mental disability, English language proficiency, housing status, and school status of each civilian against whom a law enforcement officer used force
  • The date, time, and location, including zip code, of the incident
  • The number of officers and civilians involved in the incident
  • Whether the location of the incident allows for the open-carry or concealed carry of a firearm
  • Whether the civilian was armed, and if so, the type of weapon he or she had
  • The reason force was used
  • A description of injuries sustained as a result of the incident
  • The type of force used against the officer, the civilian, or both, including the types of weapons used
  • A brief description of the circumstances surrounding the incident, including the type of force used by all persons, the legitimate police objectives necessitating force, the resistance encountered, the efforts by law enforcement to de-escalate the situation to avoid the use of force or minimize the level of force used, and why efforts were not utilized to avoid force or de-escalate the situation, if applicable

In addition to these requirements, the Attorney General must publish an annual report utilizing this data, make it publicly available, and conduct audits to ensure compliance. The bill also includes a grant that is to be used to help small law enforcement agencies in complying with the reporting requirements as well as used to provide trainings such as crisis intervention methods to better equip officers with tools to de-escalate situations before force is utilized. There is also a funding penalty for states of tribes that do not comply with reporting requirements.

This bill would help increase public safety for civilians and for police officers by providing the information necessary to know the who, what, when, where, and why of force used in physically dangerous situations. This then allows proper and effective changes to be made so that the use of force decreases. This bill also will hold states accountable for the reporting requirements stated above. If this legislation passes, it would do much in addressing the issue of violence between police officers and citizens thereby increasing public safety for all.

References:

(May 25, 2017). Van Hollen, Booker, Castro Introduce Legislation to Improve Public and Police Safety through Increased Law Enforcement Transparency. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN United States Senator for Maryland. Retrieved from https://www.vanhollen.senate.gov/content/van-hollen-booker-castro-introduce-legislation-improve-public-and-police-safety-through

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Alison Morgan is an intern for The American Public Safety Training Institute. She will graduate from BYU-Idaho in mid-July with a Bachelors of Science in Health Science with an emphasis in Public Health. Next, Alison will work on getting accepted to a masters program in either scientific journalism, public health, or psychology. She hopes to serve as a bridge between people and science through the written word or through client/provider relationships.