Mimicking major media outlets, and following pressure from Black Lives Matter campaigners, the Department of Justice announced Monday that it will bolster its efforts to record killings by police using information compiled from multiple sources.
The undertaking, however, will not require police departments to report people their officers kill, and is strikingly similar to the approach employed by the Guardian, which in June launched its own database, The Counted.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), which will house the initiative, said it will improve its data by "surveying police departments, medical examiners' offices and investigative offices about the reports that it identifies from open source and using data from the multiple sources to obtain a more accurate factual account of each incident." The agency claims it will "complete its methodology study by late 2015/early 2016 and then begin to stand up a national program on arrest related deaths."
Similarly, The Counted combines "Guardian reporting with verified crowdsourced information," including tips and media reports, to monitor police killings.
According to the Guardian, the BJS program is "seen internally as a more robust version of the currently defunct Arrest Related Deaths Count, which published annual data between 2003 and 2009 using statistics supplied by some of the United States' 18,000 law enforcement agencies."
The system will not make BJS reliant solely on voluntary reports by police, which dramatically under-represent the number of killings. The FBI, which currently only collects data on so-called "justifiable homicides" by police based on voluntary reporting from departments, identified just 444 killings in 2014. This compares with 884 killings cited by The Counted in 2015 alone.
The Washington Post and Guardian began recording police killings earlier this year after nationwide protests highlighted the U.S. government's failure to maintain any meaningful records of the killings—which disproportionately impact black and brown communities.
According to the Guardian, 27 percent of the people killed by police in 2015 had mental health issues. And according to the Washington Post, one in 13 people shot dead by guns in the United States are killed by police.