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Policy 9: Data Reporting

Data about law enforcement activity can be a powerful and effective tool in reforming policing and criminal justice practices. Collected data consistently shows that people of color are stopped more often and face more serious consequences—such as arrests, searches, or fines. Improved data collection and reporting policies are essential to understanding the severity and impact of discriminatory policing and making the case for reform to a variety of audiences. Comprehensive data allows states and localities to identify the scope of profiling, disparate enforcement, use of force and deaths resulting from police encounters/custody.


As affirmed by the Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing, transparent data collection is also key to increasing community trust and police accountability. By creating and funding ongoing data collection programs, states can reward agencies that are reducing discrimination, identify departments and individual officers most involved in profiling, incentivize the development of new, non-discriminatory approaches to policing and even drive collaboration between police departments and the communities they serve. Essential to effective data collection is the funding and creation of accurate systems for collecting, organizing and sharing the information collected.

In Practice

After a series of police involved shootings of people of color in Durham, North Carolina, a coalition of ministers, lawyers, community leaders, and organizers formed to address police brutality and profiling. The coalition worked closely with lawyers and advocates to use state data from 2002 to 2013 to show that Durham police searched Black male motorists at more than twice the rate of white males, despite the reality that Black men were not more likely to be in possession of drugs or other illicit materials. The City, which did not respond adequately to demonstrations, did respond to the data. Soon after, Durham began to require that officers make individuals aware of their right to refuse a search and obtain written consent. Similar policy changes were spurred by data collected in Kalamazoo, Michigan and in a host of other localities including New York City. Data collection is also being used in places around the country by public defenders to show discriminatory practices and by police chiefs to discuss search patterns with individual officers.

In light of ineffective or non-existent data collection practices some communities have begun to collect and share their own data. In 2013, a group of Baltimore residents, organizers, and activists who were upset about reoccurring police violence and the lack of information about those injured and killed by the police, came together to compile information on police related deaths in Baltimore and established the Maryland Stolen Lives Project. Together the group began to engage in community research and data compiling. They came to the startling conclusion that every fourteen days in Maryland, someone is killed by law enforcement. In the immediate aftermath of the Michael Brown killing in 2014, Baltimore BLOC was able to use the data they had compiled on officer involved deaths to galvanize community members into pushing for a host of police reforms at the local, county, and state levels.

Best Practices:

Laws requiring the collection of data about law enforcement interactions—including with whom, why, and how—can be enacted at the state or local level through legislation or administrative action.

  • Data collection statutes should mandate data collection for age, race and/or ethnicity, and sex/gender of individuals in police interactions as well as the date, time, location and geographic location where the interaction took place. Data should be self-reported to ensure accuracy.
  • Data collection statutes should require data on various law enforcement activities and outcomes including stops, frisks, searches, summonses, use of force, arrests, and deaths.
  • An explanation of the reason for the law enforcement action at each stage of police contact should be required as part of the data collection statute, including whether contraband was found.
  • Data collection statutes must include a mandate and funding to create data collection systems that accurately collect, maintain and analyze data and ensure that data can easily be disaggregated by age, ethnicity and/or race, sex, and shared across other systems.
  • Data collection statutes should mandate consistent reporting of data to the public, the state government, and the federal government in disaggregated form. Data should be broken down by the age, ethnicity and sex of those stopped. This data should be disaggregated by school and non-school interactions.
  • Data collection should be implemented as part of a comprehensive early warning system, in which police departments, oversight bodies and the public use the data to monitor the patterns of the department and the behavior of individual officers. When used in this way data collection can help identify potential police misconduct and deter it.
  • Data collection statutes should apply to both vehicle and pedestrian stops, searches of residences, businesses, faith institutions and other locations.
  • All data, including geo-mapping of stops, summonses, arrests, detentions, use of force, deaths and a break-down of departmental (and when available officer’s) history of stops, should be made easily accessible on a website, which is available to the public and is regularly updated. Protecting the privacy of those stopped needs to be considered in the sharing of data.