Start police shootings database

In this May 23, 2015, file photo, riot police stand in formation as a protest forms against the acquittal of Michael Brelo, a patrolman charged in the shooting deaths of two unarmed suspects in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

It isn’t surprising that efforts are being made to establish a national database to keep track of all shootings that involve police officers.

The nation’s attention has been focused on lethal shootings by law enforcement officers with the deaths of Walter Scott in North Charleston, Michael Brown in Missouri, Eric Garner in New York and Tamir Rice in Cleveland.

What is surprising is that no such reliable database exists in a country where we seem to keep track of everything else.

Two newspapers, The Washington Post and The Guardian in the United Kingdom, have established their own databases to fill the breach.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., said they will introduce legislation requiring all states to report to the Justice Department anytime a police officer is involved in a shooting or any other use of force that results in death. The reports would include age, gender and race, and would indicate if the person was armed.

The Post reported that 385 people have been shot and killed by police in the first five months of 2015. Nearly a quarter of the people killed were mentally ill.

Information about each victim and each incident is vital to assessing the overall problem and determining what should be done about it.

Clearly shootings were justified in some situations where the officer or other individuals were under attack. But other instances aren’t so clear.

Is there a racial problem? The four shooting victims named above were black.

It takes understanding the extent of the problem before solutions can be considered. Are officers adequately trained? Do policies cause minor incidents to escalate into major ones. Do they need to be updated? Are incidents investigated fairly and objectively? Does the nation need to reassess its treatment of the mentally ill?

With its data, the Department of Justice would be better able to hold people accountable and establish new policies. Too many people are dying — officers as well as suspects. That’s a given. Now it’s time to take action to change that.