Missouri became a national focal point for officer-involved shootings after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson five years ago, yet only a small number of police agencies in the state submit data to an FBI program designed to track those shootings.
An analysis by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has found that the voluntary National Use-of-Force Data Collection effort has been slow to catch on, even among police departments in the St. Louis area.
The program gathers information on fatal and nonfatal shootings and records instances when officers fire their weapons but no one is struck. Proponents say the data collection is essential in understanding how officers make life-and-death decisions. They say the information also can inform police leaders about how to better train officers.
Brown, a black and unarmed 18-year-old, was fatally shot by white Ferguson officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9, 2014, during a street confrontation. A St. Louis County grand jury and the U.S. Department of Justice found no cause to charge Wilson, who resigned in November 2014. However, the shooting led to months of often violent protests in Ferguson and the surrounding St. Louis area.
Only 13 agencies in Missouri out of about 600 had submitted a report through Nov. 22, according to the FBI. The FBI declined to name the agencies, but the Post-Dispatch found that Ladue Police and the Missouri State Highway Patrol participated.
Ladue submitted a report for the officer-involved non-fatal shooting of a woman at a grocery store parking lot in April.
The officer, Julia Crews, told investigators she thought she grabbed her stun gun, but fired her gun instead. She was charged with assault and no longer works for the department.
Ladue Chief Ken Andrewski said he entered all the details in the FBI data collection system.
“This could be something beneficial because it creates a database law enforcement can go to and it’s going to have better information because it’s answered by law enforcement,” Andrewski said. “It’s not hearsay or people putting things on social media together to create narratives.”
Many agencies said they plan to participate eventually. St. Louis Police Department spokeswoman Officer Michelle Woodling said the department is waiting for software that will allow it to upload information into the FBI system.
St. Louis County police submit use-of-force data to a different program run by the Center for Policing Equity. It has done so since early 2014, police Lt. Colby Dolly said.
Other agencies, including Florissant, said they were submitting use-of-force data through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting, or UCR, program. But that system doesn’t capture the details the new collection system does.
Police shootings in which people survive are not counted by UCR statistics, nor are missed shots, which is a problem, said David Klinger, criminologist and use-of-force expert at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
“You can’t just count the bodies,” Klinger said. “When a police officer shoots, his or her intent is to hit whatever the target is.”