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FBI will start tracking law enforcement use of force

SAN ANTONIO – For the first time, the FBI will track how often members of law enforcement use force against a suspect.

Every year, the FBI asks local law enforcement to track big crimes like murders and rapes for its Uniform Crime Reporting Program that examines trends. With police shootings really becoming part of the national conversation, the FBI will now include use of force in that report.

"Having a standard nationwide will be helpful,” says Eva Ruth Moravec, executive director of the Texas Justice Initiative.

The group maintains an online database of every officer-involved shooting in Texas.

"Our mission is not to play ‘gotcha’ with these agencies but more to enhance the accuracy of our data,” Moravec says.

Texas is ahead of the curve, with a recently-passed law that requires law enforcement to report officer-involved shootings to the state.

But starting in January, the FBI will cast a wider net by putting together a national snapshot of how often officers use force in general with weapons like guns, batons or tasers.

"Anytime an officer uses their weapon and a resulting injury or death that occurs,” explains FBI spokesperson Michelle Lee. “That could also be when an officer fires their weapon in a direction near an individual as well."

The San Antonio Police Department has counted 402 use-of-force-incidents so far this year, down from 530 at the same point last year.

"We're down 23%,” Chief William McManus says.

He attributes the drop to better training and more body cameras, and says he’s on board with the FBI’s decision to track use of force.

"I think any form of transparency in this regard is a good idea,” Chief McManus says.

SAPD’s had 12 officer-involved shootings this year, according to a department spokesperson.

Statewide, the Texas Justice Initiative keeps count. Since September 2015, the group’s tracked 543 officer-involved shootings in Texas with 52 of them being in Bexar County. That’s 9.5% of all officer-involved shootings in Texas.

"Trying to be as comprehensive as possible while also recognizing that being a police officer in America is a difficult job,” Moravec says.

The FBI says reporting to the Uniform Crime Reporting Program is voluntary. The Texas Justice Initiative does have concerns that only agencies with enough manpower and resources will participate.

By EMILY BAUCUM

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