Why Are Use-Of-Force Reports Confidential?

Jun 18, 2020

Tear gas and less-lethal rounds are included in the requirement to file a use-of-force report. However, the reports filed after the Raleigh demonstrations against police violence remain confidential.
Credit Jason deBruyn/WUNC

Where is the data on police violence? Every time a law enforcement officer uses a weapon, they submit a report justifying use of force. Police department procedures make those reports inaccessible to the public.

When use-of-force reports are categorized as personnel records — which includes performance reviews and employee complaints — they are protected by state law under a privacy clause. Efforts to increase transparency include a voluntary FBI database started at the beginning of 2019 in which about 40% of the nation’s law enforcement officers currently participate.

On June 9, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order which includes the creation of a Center for the Reduction of Law Enforcement Use of Deadly Force and the North Carolina Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice. It remains unclear whether the data released by the task force will include specific incidents or simply aggregated data about agencies. Host Frank Stasio parses apart how law enforcement departments obscure use-of-force information with WUNC’s data reporter Jason deBruyn. DeBruyn’s work is part of the NC Watchdog Reporting Network.