During a speech to a gathering of police chiefs, FBI Director James B. Comey claimed that “Americans actually have no idea” how often police use force because there is simply not enough data on the question.
“It is a narrative that has formed, in the absence of good information and in the absence of actual data, and it is this: Biased police are killing black men at epidemic rates,” Comey told the International Association of Chiefs of Police. “That is the narrative. It is a narrative driven by video images of real misconduct, possible misconduct, and perceived misconduct.”
During his remarks, Comey praised officers who served in “a uniquely difficult time,” noting that because there was no data on police violence, the American people see videos of police brutality “over and over and over again” and see that as “further proof of nationwide police brutality.”
“In a nation of almost a million law enforcement officers and tens of millions of police encounters each year, a small group of videos serve as proof of an epidemic,” he continued.
“There are bad cops,” he said. “There are departments with troubled cultures. Unfortunately, people are flawed. In any large group, there will be bad ones. All professions want to find and root out the bad ones.”
“Police officers are overwhelmingly good people. They are overwhelmingly people who took exhausting, dangerous jobs because they want to help people. They chose lives of service over self, lives of moral content, because that’s who they are.”
He went on to say that there was no data on whether or not certain groups were more targeted by police.
“There were 10.7 million arrests in this country last year, and many times that number of encounters between officers and civilians,” he said. “Out of those tens of millions of encounters, how many people were shot? What did they look like? What were the circumstances? Is deadly force use trending up or down? Where is it worst and where is it best? Nobody knows.”
Comey’s speech comes just days after the Justice Department announced that it would begin collecting better data concerning police encounters and police violence in the wake of the waves of protests that have swept the nation.