Developing a National Database on Police Use of Force

For the last 25 years, the federal government has sought to develop a single administrative data collection documenting police use of force (UOF) in the United States. Section 210402 of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 requires the US Attorney General to “acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers” and to “publish an annual summary of the data acquired.” Despite legislation requiring the collection of UOF data and multiple efforts aimed at collecting such data, the nation still lacks a comprehensive accounting of this important data, and much of the data available is difficult to access and limited in utility.

Funded by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCHR), NORC is partnering with Velir to develop a comprehensive administrative open data platform that compiles police use of force from the 18,000 local law enforcement agencies in the United States. In the first phase completed in December 2020, NORC completed several steps toward the harmonization of administrative data from five of the largest policing agencies in the US to create a Use of Force Data Snapshot as an important and immediate contribution to the national conversation about police use of force. In the second phase to be completed in late spring 2021, NORC will build a data harmonization and dissemination platform for the principal law enforcement agency for 25 of the biggest US cities. The third phase will create a comprehensive, scalable open data portal for all US law enforcement agencies.

During Phase I, NORC laid the foundation for the effort by developing a preliminary model to harmonize UOF data from five large cities, including: Austin, Baltimore, Dallas, Indianapolis, and New Orleans. A single data model with clear categories and definitions was created, at which point data from the five cities were reviewed by substantive experts from LCCHR and NORC and mapped onto a common set of values. Data was then ‘normalized’ by creating definitions for four key components including details about the incident, officer(s) involved, civilian(s) involved, and type(s) of use of force applied.

The database will be the first of its kind and will be a major contribution to the field.

Moving forward, in Phase II, we will collect use of force data from the principal law enforcement agency for 25 of the largest cities not included in the Snapshot. The definitions developed in Phase I will be used to harmonize the data into a single, comprehensive open data collection. NORC will partner with Velir to create a data platform and user tool to allow the public, law enforcement and other stakeholders and policymakers to review and analyze the data. Once the data is organized into a single collection, NORC will develop a framework to facilitate statistical analysis of these data to identify causes and correlates of the use of force and the use of excessive force. That analytic framework will be scalable to inform future research as the open data collection grows and expands in Phase III.

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