But as Lee (and other reporters) have pointed out, these numbers, striking as they are, just aren't reliable. Together with some colleagues and help from criminologists, Richard Florida atThe Atlantic magazine's CityLab took a look in August at the available statistics and came up with an impressive set of maps showing the geography of police-related killings. Despite the prodigious effort, however, there are still holes in the data.
The reason? Here's Steve Straehley at AllGov.com:
In 1994, Congress passed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. Among its provisions was the order that “the Attorney General shall, through appropriate means, acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.” The Justice Department was also required to publish an annual report on the data collected.
And…that’s pretty much the last anyone heard of that. The work of collecting the data was shuffled off to the International Association for Chiefs of Police, which made a few efforts at collecting data and put together a report in 2001, but has produced nothing since.
Those Justice Department figures above only cover 2003-2009. And even those are problematic because of the way that local police departments report or don't report statistics on police-involved shootings.
Blogger Jim Fisher has tried to crowdsource police-involved shootings, and he's had some luck. But, while his figures provide a more thorough count than the official sources, it's ridiculous that we still don't have a reliable, thorough, trustworthy, annual government report on police shootings, especially ones in which the people shot are killed.
It's impossible to look at the situation and not come to the conclusion that there are lots of people—police chiefs being prominent among them—who simply don't want people to know the extent of such shootings.
It's way past time that the Department of Justice do what Congress asked it to two decades ago.