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Document Type

Article

Abstract

Congress passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act in 2014, which created a national database on civilian deaths caused by law enforcement. The Federal Bureau of Investigations and the Bureau of Justice Statistics have subsequently also announced new efforts to collect data on the frequency of deadly encounters between law enforcement and civilians. This Article explores how the federal government could use these newly amassed datasets to reduce police violence. This Article makes two contributions. The first Part of the Article argues that data alone will be insufficient to bring about widespread reform in local police departments. By making these datasets publicly available, the federal government could incentivize some police departments to prioritize reductions in police violence. But even when faced with troubling statistical trends, there is no guarantee that some of the nation’s most problematic law enforcement agencies will voluntarily make expensive policy and procedural reforms. Thus, the second Part of the Article considers some ways that the U.S. Attorney General could harness these new datasets to improve the use of federal civil rights litigation against local police departments. Under 42 U.S.C. § 14141, the Attorney General has the power to seek equitable relief against police departments engaged in a pattern or practice of unconstitutional misconduct, including excessive uses of force. By using this data, the Attorney General can incrementally improve the enforcement of § 14141 in a way that incentives local police departments to implement reforms aimed at reducing officer violence.

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