Here is my transcript of the collection of data portion of Attorney General Loretta Lynch’ interview on 10/1/2015 at the Atlantic/Aspen Institute Washington Ideas Forum in Washington, D.C.
The interviewer is Chuck Todd of MSNBC.
CT: We do also have a trust deficit also with statistics. For instance,you know, we keep track of violent crime rates, but we don’t have, and you tell me if you’re going to have the Justice Department- you’re going to try to fix this, but there doesn’t seem to be a uniform way to keep track of when a police officer discharges his weapon.
CT: We don’t feel as if – I mean right now the best statistic is done by a newspaper, a news organization that’s based in Europe. Here I mean it’s The Guardian, I think, that’s doing this.
CT: That’s kind of atrocious.Is it not?
LL: Yes, well I’m not going to comment on news organizations keeping numbers. I think they do a pretty good job sometimes.
You know, you raise an important point about keeping track of what happens. I think one of the things that we have seen, however, with the recent incidents that have been captured on videotape, I think people have been able to see – people in the larger community – have been able to see what members of minority communities have talked about really for decades, if not generations, about the different types of interactions that people can have with law enforcement and also how whether or not an officer is trained in calming a situation down or lets the situation escalate. They have seen the difference that that makes. It’s been hard for people to understand if they haven’t experienced it, if they haven’t had that sense that there is a bit of a divide and a disconnect there.
So, while we don’t have actual numbers and, frankly,
CT: Why? Why can’t we do this? I mean, is this just something that Congress has just to pass a law, like sort of make it mandatory that all police… You tell me. How – what would it take for you to have these statistics at hand?
LL: Well, one of the ways in which we are looking to gather information exactly on this front is through our work through local law enforcement. We do a lot of work with local law enforcement and in a very collaborative manner. They often reach out to the Department for technical assistance, for training, and sometimes we also, as you know, have police juristictions under – I should say – police departments under our jurisdiction in enforcement actions.
CT: Ferguson for instance now is.
LL: (nods) One of the things that we have been
CT: Am I correct about that about Ferguson?
LL: Well, Ferguson we just issued a report on Ferguson’s practices that were not just about policing, but about the larger relationship of the municipality with the residents. Which I will tell you, I think, if you have the opportunity to read that,
CT: Stunning. It was.. really sad
LL: But it illustrates the root cause of a lot of the feeling of disconnect that many minority members of the community feel towards the police because the police are often the only face of government that they see and so, very often, the police get the brunt of a lot of the frustration and the anger and confusion and dissatisfaction over municipal policies such as we saw in Ferguson. This exacerbates this divide and mistrust. One of the things we are working on. But when we have a consent decree, or even collaborative reform, we do impose record keeping requirements on police departments and what I will say is, no one likes extra paperwork. I hear that all the time. But, they find it extremely helpful to, as you pointed out, Chuck, to be able to indicate how many times a police officer simply interacts with a member of the community? How many times does that interaction result in a ticket? How many times does it result in the officer having to draw their weapon? How many times does it result in shots being fired? And there actually are some police departments out there that do an excellent job of recording how many times a shot is fired if a weapon is discharged for example.
CT: But you just said some police departments do a good job. We don’t have a national system on this. Should we?
LL: We don’t. You know, one of the things we are focusing on with the Department of Justice is not trying to reach down from Washington and dictate to every local department how they should handle the minutiae of record keeping. But we are stressing to them that these records must be kept. A lot of times it’s a resource issue for small departments. You know, the average size of a police department is 55 people. You know, a lot of them are very small and municipalities are challenged. This is not to say, not to excuse not doing this, because it is in fact a very important tool for tracking these interactions. So, we encourage it and we are also looking to encourage consistency of standards. As you’ve pointed out, you can get information from one department but if you can’t match it up or marry it up to other information, it may not give you a true picture. But the real issues here, Chuck, I mean the statistics are important but the real issues are what steps we can all be taking to connect communities that often feel disenfranchised and disaffected with the police, and back with government.