In the wake of attention focused on police-involved shootings, at least two bills – HR 3481 and S1476- have been introduced in Congress that would require officer-involved deaths be reported to the FBI for a national database. Currently, local agencies report to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.
Because nationwide reporting is often voluntary, determining exact numbers of deaths from officer-involved shootings varies – but estimates range from 700-900 annually, according to various estimates.
Statistics on officer deaths are easier to obtain, and indicate 40 officers have died due to shooting this year, an increase over previous years, although until recently the number had been decreasing.
The Police Reporting of Information, Data and Evidence (PRIDE) Act was introduced in June, 2015 and cosponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ The PRIDE Act would require states to report to the Justice Department on any incident in which a law enforcement officer is involved in a shooting, and any other instance where use of force by or against a law enforcement officer or civilian results in serious bodily injury or death, according to the press release for the bill.
There is also a PRIDE Act bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 3481), introduced in September, 2015, and sponsored by Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX-20).
Currently, both the Johnson County Sheriff’s Department and Gardner report any officer involved shootings to the KBI.
When law enforcement is involved and a civilian death occurs, Johnson County is required by state statute to report to the district attorney and to the county coroner.
“We also notify the KBI, as they generally investigate any LEO shooting. They in turn report to the Kansas Attorney General,” said Darla Jaye, public information officer for the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office. “The PRIDE act doesn’t necessarily pertain to us as it is specifically for state and tribal governments to report on,” Jaye said. “However, we already meet and often exceed state requirements as outlined by statute and our own internal policies directives.”
“It is unconstitutional to use deadly force to effect arrests of ‘nonviolent felony or misdemeanor suspects’ unless it is necessary AND the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious injury to the officer or others,” Jaye continued.
Jim Pruetting, Gardner chief of police, said he typically supports any effort to ensure the accurate collection of data and to advance transparency within the law enforcement profession and that deaths involving an officer are currently reported to the KBI.
“However, promoting ‘public awareness’ of officer involved shootings and use-of-force incidents without context can be misleading and potentially promote a narrative that puts police officers at additional risk, as we’ve seen in recent months,” Pruetting said. “The vast majority of police shootings are deemed justified by a prosecutor or grand jury based on existing case law, so putting raw numbers under a spotlight would likely not serve a valid public interest.”
Pruetting said whether or not actual statistics on officer or civilian deaths would be beneficial would depend on how it s used.
“If it’s used to identify patterns and commonalities of use of force incidents that can be used by law enforcement to improve tactics and/or identify additional training to minimize future occurrences, then it’s a good thing,” Pruetting said. “If it’s used without context to advance a narrative that puts police officers at additional risk of harm, then any real or perceived benefit no longer exists.”
Both Pruetting and Jaye believe media attention is more focused on officer-involved shootings.
There haven’t been a barrage of civilian/police deaths, Jaye said. however, there has been more media coverage.
Pruetting agreed. Although the current attention to civilian/law enforcement deaths is more pronounced than it’s been in the past, the issue is not new. “The increased use of police body cameras, the prevalence of cell phone cameras, and the speed in which information is shared through social media has simply put the issue more prominently in the public’s eye,” he said.
“As I previously noted, most police shootings are deemed justified by a prosecutor or grand jury based on existing case law,” Pruetting said. “However, police shootings that are not justified do great damage to the public’s trust of law enforcement, and we must do everything possible to prevent those incidents from occurring.”
The Gardner Police Department is very proactive in seeking out relevant training for officers and in conducting practical exercises to ensure officers are prepared for whatever they might encounter on any given day, Pruetting said.
Whenever you are pulled over or approached by a police officer, the best thing to do is to simply comply with whatever direction the officer gives you, Pruetting said. Officers are trained to look for potential threats and to put themselves in the safest possible position to avoid potential threats.
“With that in mind, you should keep your hands where the officer can see them and be responsive to any questions,” Pruetting continued. “In turn, you should expect the officer to be polite and to treat you with respect.”
If a citizen has concern regarding an officer’s conduct, Pruetting said, “In Gardner, you can simply respond to the Gardner Police Department or Gardner City Hall and obtain a complaint form.”
Jaye said the sheriff’s department’s training of officers is ongoing. “Community policing is department wide, and we continually look for more ways to involve ourselves with the communities that we serve.”
If pulled over for a traffic stop, Jaye said it is best to follow the officer’s commands, and file a complaint if you believe your treatment is unwarranted.