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Most Arizona police agencies don't share use of force data with FBI

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Posted at 9:22 PM, Aug 03, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-04 00:26:46-04

The FBI is trying to give a national perspective on police use of force, but after 18 months of data requests, most Arizona police departments are still opting out of the voluntary program.

The FBI's collection of data will include any use of force that results in the death or serious bodily injury of a person, as well as when a law enforcement officer discharges a firearm at or in the direction of a person.

Information collected will include location, demographics on both officer and suspect, weapons used, whether there was a threat or ambush directed at the officer.

The data could provide a better understanding of when, where, why, and how often officers use violent tactics, but the FBI will not determine whether such uses of force were justifiable.

Police departments in only four of Arizona's largest ten cities are submitting their data already, according to a list released by the FBI last week. Chandler, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Tucson did submit at least some police use-of-force information since the program began in January 2019.

"We want to earn the trust and respect of our community," said Chandler Sgt. Jason McClimans. "We believe it’s the best thing to do since residents of Chandler know exactly what’s going on here at the police department."

Six of Arizona's other largest cities are not submitting data, including Phoenix, Peoria, Glendale, Tempe, Gilbert, and Surprise. A spokesman for Gilbert's police department said the agency has registered, but not submitted data yet. Tempe police plan to start submitting sometime this year. According to the Glendale police department, it will start giving use-of-force data to the FBI when a new computerized reporting system goes online in 2021.

Several Arizona agencies noted their incident reporting systems are not currently formatted to easily generate reports or upload the data requested by the FBI. Police department employees would have to read officer narratives and manually enter the information.

Phoenix, Arizona's largest city chose not to submit its information, but a spokeswoman said the police department is committed to transparency.

"We are currently in the final stages of developing our own use of force public dashboard," Sgt. Mercedes Fortune said in an email. "This information will be posted shortly, along with other data sets such as crime statistics, officer involved shootings and calls for service"

The FBI listed several other Arizona agencies as participants, including:

· Casa Grande Police Department
· Arizona Department of Public Safety
· Fort McDowell Tribal
· Gila River Indian Community
· Hualapai Tribal
· Kingman Police Department
· Northern Arizona University
· Pascua Yaqui Tribal
· Prescott Valley Police Department
· Tohono O'odham Nation
· Wellton Police Department

None of Arizona's sheriff's departments are reporting use-of-force data to the program, according to the FBI's list.

Newsy and Scripps' national investigative reporting team found several other major city police departments, including Houston and Minneapolis, have also not yet submitted data to the FBI's use-of-force program.

In fact, agencies representing nearly 60% of the nation's officers have not shared information on when police use violence. However, more than 90% of the nation's police agencies participate in the FBI's uniform crime report, which provides annual statistics on murder, rape, robbery, and other offenses in their jurisdictions.

Several Arizona law enforcement agencies including Peoria and Chandler said they already post use-of-force statistics or reports on their own websites.

Kevin Robinson, a university professor and retired Phoenix assistant police chief, acknowledged some police departments may hesitate to participate due to concerns about the staff resources and technology needs. He encouraged chiefs to make the extra effort.

"One of the best things we can do is be open and transparent, give information freely and willingly," Robinson said.

Robinson said the FBI's use of force database, once completed, would provide snapshots useful to both the public and police chiefs.

"That may tell you maybe we need more police officers or may tell you maybe you’re doing too much. Who knows? But it’s good to have information because the information will help drive decisions," Robinson said.

The FBI wants police agencies representing at least 80% of all sworn officers to begin submitting use-of-force information prior to releasing the data publicly. The FBI will also publish information on trends and characteristics of this data.