Snapshot: FBI’s National Use-Of-Force Data

June 2, 2022

By a Biometrica staffer

On May 31, Tuesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program published the National Use-of-Force Data Collection’s report for 2021 and some data for the first quarter of this year. Per the report, 50.7% of use-of-force incidents submitted to the FBI for the year 2021 resulted in serious bodily injury of a person, 33.2% caused the death of a person, and 17% involved the discharge of a firearm at or in the direction of a person.

We’ll get into more details on those use-of-force incidents later on in this piece, and also give you an overview of what exactly this database is and the timeline of events that led to its creation. But firstly, how does the FBI define a use-of-force incident?

It says: “A use-of-force incident occurs when a law enforcement officer takes an action that results in someone’s death or serious injury.” The definition of serious injury is based, in part, on Title 18, United States Code, section 2246 (4): “The term ‘serious bodily injury’ means bodily injury that involves substantial risk of death, unconsciousness, protracted and obvious disfigurement, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member, organ, or mental faculty.”

The Bureau goes on to add that use-of-force incidents also include when a law enforcement officer fires a weapon at or in the direction of someone, even if that person isn’t seriously harmed or killed. 

Participating Agencies

For 2021, 8,226 law enforcement agencies submitted use-of-force data to the collection. The FBI released national-level data based on a threshold of 60% participation by federal, state, local, tribal, and college/university sworn officers for that year. Agencies submitted data concerning qualifying uses of force that included any action that resulted in the death or serious bodily injury of a person, or the discharge of a firearm at or in the direction of a person.

If no qualifying incidents occurred, agencies submitted a zero report for that month. The statistics in the report include those agencies that submitted at least one incident report or zero report for 2021.

The FBI says it uses a total count of 860,000 sworn police employees, an estimate by the UCR Program, based on all known and reasonably presumed federal, state, local, tribal, and college/university sworn law enforcement personnel eligible to participate in the National Use-of-Force Data Collection. Participation in the data collection is voluntary and open to all federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and investigative agencies. 

Reasons For Initial Contact

As we mentioned earlier, of the reported use-of-force incidents in 2021, just over half of them resulted in serious bodily injury of a person. When it comes to the reasons behind initial contact, these were the most reported, per the FBI’s data:

  • 56.8% involved officers responding to unlawful or suspicious activities
  • 11.0% stemmed from traffic stops
  • 10.1% resulted from warrant services/court orders
  • 7.6% were for medical, mental health, or welfare checks on individuals
  • 3.2% followed routine patrols other than traffic stops
  • 2.7% involved follow-up investigations
  • 6.9% were unknown and unlikely to ever be known
    Please note: The report says these numbers may not add up to 100% since they were rounded off.

The types of force that were reportedly used most often include firearms; hands, fists, or feet; electronic control devices; canines; and others. When it comes to these incidents, officers most often encountered individuals who failed to comply with verbal commands or other types of passive resistance.

Other types of resistance encountered included displaying a weapon at an officer or another individual, attempting to escape or flee custody, using a firearm against an officer or another individual, or resisting being handcuffed or arrested.

Timeline Of Key Events

“Police-involved shootings and the use the force have long been topics of national discussion, but with recent high profile cases, it has heightened the public’s awareness of this topic. And so we see this as an opportunity to report information that, from the law enforcement community’s perspective, makes sure that we’re accountable and transparent to the public while telling the entire story. And up until this point, there’s been a lack of data in order to share this from a national perspective,” Trudy Ford, a section chief in the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division (CJIS) explains in a 2020 ‘Inside the FBI’ podcast on why the Bureau decided to launch a national use-of-force database.

And so, in 2015, the FBI created the National Use of Force Data Collection in partnership with law enforcement agencies, to provide nationwide statistics on law enforcement use-of-force incidents. The Bureau began collecting this data from law enforcement agencies on January 1, 2019. The database is meant to offer big picture insights and not information on specific incidents. It’s also important to note that it does not assess or report whether officers followed their department’s policy or acted lawfully.

By the end of 2015, the CJIS’ Advisory Policy Board (APB) had approved a new data collection on law enforcement use of force. In early 2016, the National Use-of-Force Data Collection Task Force, including law enforcement leaders from across the U.S., met to discuss the collection. The following year, the data collection pilot study began. And, in 2019, the data collection was launched nationwide and all law enforcement agencies were encouraged to participate. It was only last July, though, that the FBI released participation data from this collection.