A week after the Star Ledger debuted a database of police use of force, state law enforcement leaders announced new efforts to uniformly collect such data.
The yearlong effort by reporters published on NJ.com was meant to fill a 20-year failure for the state to proerly keep the data.
But many in law enforcement warned against judging how an officer handles a specific case by looking only at the numbers.
“Last week, the Star-Ledger began publishing a series of articles about the gaps in the uniformity of our state’s use-of-force data collection efforts, as well as the newspaper’s effort to build a use-of-force database of its own,” said the joint statement put out by various leadership including Attorney General Gurbir Grewal, the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey and police unions. “The articles make one thing clear: although individual municipalities, departments, or counties may have effective systems in place, our statewide data collection system requires a complete overhaul.”
While the statement acknowledged there needs to be a system in place, it warned against a numbers-only approach.
NJ.com project tracks all police force incidents statewide – BreakingAC
All police use-of-force numbers from 2012 to 2016 are now available through a database created through a more than year-longÂ by NJ.com. After 506 public records requests and collected 72,607 use-of-force reports, the public can now search all incidents from the most recent five-year by town or officer… Read more
“We recognize that use-of-force data — when properly collected — serves many useful purposes, from identifying policing trends to building public confidence in law enforcement,” the statement said. “But numbers rarely tell the full story, and data can be easily misused to advance false narratives that malign our profession. The risks are especially great when the data is collected, reported or analyzed without uniform standards. Therefore, it is crucial not simply that we obtain accurate data, but also that we provide the context necessary to understand and explain this information to the public.”
In many cases, the context wasn’t available, it seems, according to at least one story that accompanied the NJ.com series.
“The force forms, if completed at all, are tucked in filing cabinets and stashed away in cardboard boxes in every corner of the state,” write Craig McCarthy and S.P. Sullivan. “They are rarely closely examined, current and former law enforcement officials say. Thousands of them are incomplete, scrawled in illegible handwriting or even quarantined because of mold.”
The failure to have uniform data collection methods needs to be addressed, the statement acknowledge, adding that it’s also why the records the Star-Ledger used may be inaccurate in some cases.
“We are committed to fixing this problem,” the release said. “It falls to those of us in law enforcement to improve our data collection efforts and ensure that any data we provide the public is both accurate and properly contextualized.”
A new system is now being worked on under the Office of the Attorney General that would standardize the process that state, county and local law enforcement agencies use to record use-of-force incidents and report them to the state. It also will identify ways to contextualize use-of-force incidents with accurate information about the officers’ actions; and identify one or more academic institutions to partner with the state of New Jersey to help analyze use-of-force data and ensure the rigor of the state’s data collection efforts.
“We intend to work quickly to develop new tools, with the goal of completing our work sometime in the new year,” the announcement said. “We cannot do our jobs without the confidence of the people we serve, and we are committed to ensuring that the public understands when and under what circumstances New Jersey’s law enforcement officers use force during the course of their public duties.”
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