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Use of Force


The collection of law enforcement use of force statistics has been mandated as a responsibility of the Attorney General since the passage of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Title XXI: State and Local Law Enforcement, Subtitle D: Police Pattern or Practice, Section 210402, states the responsibility of the Attorney General to collect data on excessive force. Specifically—

(a) ATTORNEY GENERAL TO COLLECT—The Attorney General shall, through appropriate means, acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers.
(b) LIMITATION ON USE OF DATA—Data acquired under this section shall be used only for research or statistical purposes and may not contain any information that may reveal the identity of the victim or any law enforcement officer.
(c) ANNUAL SUMMARY—The Attorney General shall publish an annual summary of the data acquired under this section.

In 1995, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) convened a Police Use of Force Workshop to discuss the requirements of Section 210402. Challenges on the collection of use of force statistics were discussed, including the identification and collection of excessive force data. The first step to measure excessive force is to capture the use of any action deemed as force, regardless of whether or not it is excessive. Therefore, recommendations were made on how to measure law enforcement use of force nationally with the ability to identify which acts were excessive. Two data collection streams were highlighted for this effort: BJS and NIJ sponsored the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) National Use of Force Database Center and BJS's Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS). Since 1995, additional efforts have been made by BJS and other DOJ agencies to capture a broader understanding of law enforcement use of force, including training and policy. The following projects have collected data on various aspects of law enforcement use of force:

  • Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS)
    Fielded by BJS in 1996, 1999, 2002, 2005, 2008, 2011, 2015 and 2018, the PPCS is a national survey of the nature and characteristics of citizen contacts with law enforcement. Data are collected from a nationally representative sample of nearly 91,000 residents age 16 or older, and include information on contacts with law enforcement, such as traffic stops, arrests, handcuffing, and incidents of law enforcement use of force. Since 1999, citizens have been asked about law enforcement acting properly and use of excessive force.
  • Arrest-Related Deaths (ARD) program
    From 2003 to 2012, BJS collected a national census of information on persons who died either during the process of arrest or while in the custody of state or local law enforcement personnel. Data collected included information on the decedent's demographic characteristics, the manner and cause of death, the law enforcement agency involved with the death, and circumstances of the incident, such as weapon use and alleged criminal behavior of the decedent. While the collection continued through early 2013, published data are currently available through 2009. BJS previously conducted a study of two data sources on law enforcement homicides—the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR) and the ARD program—and found that each source captured only about half of the expected number of homicides by law enforcement officers for the period from 2003 to 2011. BJS conducted a pilot study to improve the completeness of its collection of in-custody deaths and deaths in the process of arrest through the ARD program.
  • Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS)
    Fielded by BJS in 1987, 1990, 1993, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2013, and 2016, the LEMAS data collection surveys a nationally-representative sample of state and local law enforcement agencies about personnel, pay and benefits, budgets, record and information management systems, and community policing. Since 1987, LEMAS has asked self-representing agencies about the existence of use of force policy, as well as use of lethal and less-lethal weapons. Since 1997, agencies have been asked about investigation policies pertaining to citizen complaints of excessive force. The 2003 and 2007 LEMAS surveys also included questions about the annual number of citizen complaints received, including the number sustained. The 2013 LEMAS asked about the number of internally generated use of force incidents and reports. Due to the brevity of this topic on an omnibus survey, BJS is currently examining the validity of using the LEMAS as a tool to collect use of force prevalence. Pilot efforts are currently underway to launch a separate national program to collect law enforcement administrative data on use of force.
  • Survey of Inmates in Local Jails (SILJ)
    Fielded by BJS in 1972, 1978, 1983, 1989, 1996, and 2002, SILJ provides information collected from a nationally representative sample of inmates in local jails on individual characteristics of jail inmates, including current offenses and detention status, characteristics of victims, criminal histories, family background, and gun possession and use. In 2002, inmates were asked about their experience with law enforcement at the time of their arrest and the types of force used (if any) against them.
  • FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports (SHR)
    The FBI's SHR annually collect additional details for homicide events known to law enforcement reported to the FBI through the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. In addition to incident-specific information on murder and nonnegligent homicides that come to the attention of the law enforcement, SHR collect data on justifiable homicides. In the UCR Program, a justifiable homicide is defined as the willful killing of a felon by a peace officer in the line of duty, or by a private citizen during the commission of a felony. The FBI publishes data on justifiable homicides by a law enforcement officer each year through the annual publication Crime in the United States (CIUS).
  • FBI's Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA)
    The FBI's LEOKA collection annually gathers information on the number of law enforcement officers killed, feloniously or accidentally, and the number of officers assaulted while performing their duties. Data is collected through the UCR Program for city, university and college, county, state, tribal, and federal agencies. The FBI publishes LEOKA data each year through CIUS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also collects national data pertaining to lethal and nonlethal injuries inflicted through legal intervention, which are defined as injuries inflicted by the law enforcement or other law-enforcing agents, including military on duty, in the course of arresting or attempting to arrest lawbreakers, suppressing disturbances, maintaining order, and other legal actions. Lethal incidents are captured through the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), Fatal Injury Reports, and nonlethal injuries are captured through the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System - All Injury Program (NEISS-AIP). The CDC has been expanding its efforts to capture more information surrounding the circumstances of violent deaths through the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). While the NVDRS has received support from 32 states, the most recent data are from 17 of these states and not nationally representative. Data for all three databases can be accessed from the Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS).

Terms & Definitions

Deadly or lethal force

Force that a law enforcement officer uses with the purpose of causing, or that the officer knows to create a substantial risk of causing, death, or serious bodily harm.

Excessive use of force

The application of lawful use of force in too many separate incidents.

Non-deadly or less-lethal force

The level of force required to gain compliance that is not known to or intended to create serious bodily harm or death.

Use of excessive force

The application of force beyond what is reasonably believed to be necessary to gain compliance from a subject in any given incident.

Use of force

The amount of effort required by law enforcement to gain compliance from an unwilling subject.
Date Created: February 18, 2021