Commentary

07.25.15

Does Ohio Need a Police Shooting Database?

By

Lights on top of police car - police in background

There has been recent public outcry about the disproportionate interactions with law enforcement in communities of color. To better understand what’s happening, Ohio could make use of a centralized database that would document instances of excessive force, lethal and non-lethal.

Earlier this year, two criminal justice students at Sinclair Community College in voiced support for a database that specifically would document instances of police shootings. Such a database might catalogue: information from the police department in question; the officer’s name; the number of shots fired; the given reason for the use of lethal force; a copy of the police report; and just as important, a description of the shooting victim, including age, gender identity, ethnicity, and other physical characteristics.

The Pros

Better transparency in general. Law enforcement needs to be accountable to the community it serves.  By providing a repository in which all instances of excessive force are catalogued, everyday citizens would be able to better discern any issues or disparities that come with policing. This system could facilitate more transparency in the process of how citizens of Ohio are policed.

With Kasich’s new executive-ordered “Ohio Collaborative Community- Police Advisory Board,” Ohio could take another step towards transparency and promoting good faith relations by developing an excessive force database. This effort would show that there is a good-faith intent to share information critical to communities that are being indiscriminately targeted by showing how and where excessive force is being exercised by law enforcement.

The Cons

Currently, the United States has no such database despite the fact the federal government collects vast amounts of information. There’s no standardized process by which officers log incident reports. There’s no central infrastructure for handling information from 17,000 law enforcement agencies nationally and making it public. Would it even be possible for Ohio to develop an archive of its own?

There are privacy issues associated with such a database. The privacy of the officers, who may or may not have been at fault in their handling of a potentially dangerous situation, could be compromised by putting information like their names and badge numbers or police departments out in the open.  Victims’ information, whether or not they were involved in a criminal activity, would be open to public scrutiny, potentially victimizing them again.

To learn more about law enforcement misconduct and how it affects communities of color, be sure to check our summary of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

Of course, these incidents are very serious in nature, and while privacy may be a concern, the public’s right to know what its police departments are doing is paramount.

To some degree, an excessive force database doesn’t do enough to confront the overall concerns that many Americans have about policing. This is perhaps the more important problem: creating a database is fine, but how will the government make sure that the public is aware of it and that its findings lead to actual change in police departments.

By making this information accessible online, and holding governmental offices responsible for disseminating the findings from a database, everyone with internet access should be able to find this information in a few short clicks of a button. Police accountability soon would follow.

Ohioans deserve to know potential trends that could indicate systemic examples of excessive force used against certain groups of people. Because there are hundreds of law enforcement agencies in Ohio, it might not be logistically plausible at this point in time to maintain an excessive force database. But it’s an end goal to have in mind that could help us to recognize and stop any systemic discrimination within our state’s law enforcement.

Kaleb Carter is an intern with the ACLU of Ohio.

 

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