How the FBI is collecting data on police departments' use of force, five years after Ferguson

Inside FBI effort to gather use of force data

As some police departments in America face accusations of bias and brutality, CBS News is getting an exclusive look at the FBI's new effort to track police use of force. On Wednesday, CBS News revealed that a growing number of police officers in America's big cities say they receive implicit bias training – but it's hard to prove it's working.

That's partly because the federal government has never tracked how often police use force. Now, there's an FBI team on a mission to do that. But there's also concern that the FBI won't get everything it needs to draw key conclusions, because providing data is voluntary. However, enacting a nationwide mandate to provide use of force data is up to Congress, not the FBI. 

For police officers, split-second decisions about using a weapon can mean life or death for the officer and the public. In the recent mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, officers saved lives by quickly taking down the suspect. But in other cases, like the 2016 shooting death of Philando Castile in Minnesota, claims of excessive force can lead to termination for the officer. Either way, it's their training that lays the foundation for how officers respond.

Now, an FBI team in Bridgeport, West Virginia, is gathering use of force data from the roughly 18,000 police departments across the country.

Michael Deleon, the assistant director of the FBI's Criminal Justice Information Services Division, said that the resulting database is "incredibly important" for preventing use of force incidents.

Deleon added that there are two primary reasons for compiling the data: to make sure that the FBI is "transparent" to the communities it serves, and to help law enforcement professionals establish training that will help them better handle incidents.

His hope, he said, is that use-of-force incidents can be prevented. "The use of force is a last choice," he added.

"You think it is?" asked CBS News correspondent Jeff Pegues.

"I do, I absolutely do," Deleon said. 

Deleon said his team will be tracking deadly force, force that results in serious injury, and force where an officer's weapon is discharged in the direction of a person. He said they'll also be gathering information on the circumstances surrounding each incident, including the race and physical condition of those involved.

But despite the wide range of data they're seeking, there are concerns that the effort may have a fundamental flaw.

"Because it's voluntary, departments can choose to participate, and they don't have to present everything," said David Johnson, a social psychologist who studies officers' use of force decisions.  

Instead, Johnson suggested, the FBI should standardize this kind of data reporting and make it mandatory.

Deleon said that if a law enforcement agency is not reporting their data truthfully, it "will be quickly discovered" by the media and local communities. But he acknowledged that the FBI will not be monitoring the departments to ensure the accuracy of the data. "We're going to rely on them to be truthful…" he said. "And I would tell you that the law enforcement community expects that from each other."

"Yeah, but is that good enough for the public?" Pegues asked.

"Yes," Deleon said.

Deleon said that he hopes his team will have use of force data on 40% of the nation's police departments by January 2020. At that time, they can start to release findings online -- but the public will only see trend reports, not the raw data.