U.S. Justice Department will finally start tracking police killings and use of force

How many people report domestic abuse to police officers? How many police officers suffer from PTSD? How many people even have a criminal record?

The police can't answer these questions, because there's little-to-no data which tells us the scope of these problems. But when it comes to police killings, the federal government just took us one step further out of that darkness.

On Thursday afternoon, the U.S. Justice Department announced a new initiative to track police killings and the use of force. Since Congress hasn't passed a law to compel local police departments to report on non-lethal uses of force by police officers, the Justice Department will create an online portal for departments to report use of force, and collect data from informal reports.

In August, the Movement for Black Lives put forth a police platform demanding an end to the war on black lives, citing a need for greater accountability for police officers.

Protestors across the country have spent the past 3 years demonstrating against police killings of unarmed black men and women.Joe Raedle/Getty Images

But until now, some of the only comprehensive data sets on police killings were independent projects from news organizations like the Guardian and the Washington Post. Police reform advocates need reliable data in order to diagnose problems in policing and hold police accountable — data that's traditionally difficult to track.

"We need better studies on killings," Nick Selby, a Texas detective who works on police reform and tracking police data, told Mic in July. "We need serious researchers from a scientific perspective who can separate the real problems in policing with perceived problems in policing."