Why Do We (Still) Lack Data on Policing?

30 Pages Posted: 29 Jul 2014

See all articles by Rachel Harmon

Rachel Harmon

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: July 28, 2014


The Wickersham Commission report on The Third Degree, found in the Commission’s famous Report on Lawlessness in Law Enforcement ended with the argument that the “real remedy” for police misconduct “lies in the will of the community,” which in turn depends on evidence about the nature and extent of police abuse. In this brief essay, I argue that the report’s call for information about policing has gone largely unanswered. Eighty years later, we still lack enough data about what the police do to shape their conduct effectively. Public policy and legal decisions about policing depend heavily on empirical judgments, but police chiefs and local government officials do not generate sufficient data about the police absent external regulation. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the primary federal agencies charged with collecting information on policing, have focused on serving the law enforcement community rather than facilitating governance of the police. The consequence is that we do not have the information we need to secure effective and rights-protecting policing.

Suggested Citation

Harmon, Rachel, Why Do We (Still) Lack Data on Policing? (July 28, 2014). Marquette Law Review, Vol. 96, No. 4, 2014, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2014-40, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2473140

Rachel Harmon (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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