- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 15, 2015

Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday the nation needs more data about the number of police shootings and the use of force by law enforcement officers, calling the lack of information about the police “unacceptable.”

“The troubling reality is that we lack the ability right now to comprehensively track the number of incidents of either uses of force directed at police officers or uses of force by police,” Mr. Holder said during a ceremony honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Justice Department headquarters in D.C.

“Fixing this is an idea that we should all be able to unite behind,” he added.

There have been calls for clearer information on incidents of violence that involve police since the August death of black teenager Michael Brown during a confrontation with a white police officer.

The department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics often tracks the number of officers cleared of wrongdoing in fatal shootings — called “justifiable homicides” — but it’s more difficult to gather data about the total number of violent incidents. Likewise, it’s difficult to get an exact count on the incidents where police use physical force — or have physical force used on them.

Some of the most up-to-date information the agency has comes from a 2011 study, which found that out of roughly 98 million arrests made between 2003 and 2009, about 4,800 people died while being arrested by law enforcement agents.

A little over 60 percent of those deaths — 2,931 — were labeled as “homicides by law enforcement personnel,” though the report did not go into detail on how many killings were ruled to be justified in the line of duty and how many were ruled to be mistakes by police.

The report did say that roughly half of all arrest-related deaths involved a suspect assaulting officers. Of those who died, 42 percent were white, 32 percent were black and 20 percent were Hispanic.

Mr. Holder called upon the Justice Department and the nation to meet difficult challenges head on, in the spirit of King.

“Let us not shy away from, but embrace, the noisy discord of honest, frank and vigorous debate,” the attorney general said. “And let us reject the empty rhetoric of anyone who would engage in cynical attempts to divide and cast blame — choosing instead to affirm once more that Americans from all backgrounds and perspectives must come together to be part of positive change.”

• Phillip Swarts can be reached at pswarts@washingtontimes.com.

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