Killings by police that unleashed a new protest movement around the US in 2014, including those of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and John Crawford, are missing from the federal government’s official record of homicides by officers because most departments refuse to submit data.
Only 224 of 18,000 law enforcement agencies around the US reported a fatal shooting by their officers to the FBI last year, according to previously unpublished data obtained by the Guardian, which sheds new light on flaws in official systems for counting the use of deadly force by police.
The Counted, an investigation by the Guardian to report all deaths caused by police in 2015, had already logged deadly shootings by officers from 224 different law enforcement agencies by 10 April. 2014 recorded deaths at a similar higher rate.
Stephen Fischer, a spokesman for the FBI, said exclusions were inevitable because the program remained voluntary.
Amid mounting pressure on public authorities to overhaul the recording of deadly incidents involving law enforcement, an extensive review of all data on “justifiable homicides” by police collected by the FBI from police departments between 2004 and 2014 found:
– No police departments from the state of Florida reported any homicides by officers, meaning deaths caused by police in the country’s third-most populous state were not logged by the FBI. The New York police department, by far the country’s biggest, submitted data for just one year during the past decade.
– The FBI records only basic personal details of each person killed and not information such as whether they were armed with a weapon – a critical factor in ongoing debates over the use of force by police around the country.
– A chaotic approach was applied to recording other high-profile deaths over recent years. Some were logged, some filed without noting the subjects were killed by police, and others were ignored.
– An increase in the number of homicides by police publicly reported by the FBI over the past five years was effectively matched by a rise in the number of individual departments reporting any homicides, casting doubt over purported trends in the data.
– Details of other controversial deaths that prompted protests were entered incorrectly in the FBI database, damaging government efforts to monitor demographic information about people killed by police.
Comprehensive records of killings by law enforcement officers has been a demand of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has risen to prominence since the fatal police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, of Michael Brown in August 2014. It was also among the recommendations made by Barack Obama’s White House policing taskforce, which was convened following Brown’s death, which was among those recorded in the FBI database.