WASHINGTON — When the Justice Department surveyed police departments nationwide in 2013, officials included for the first time a series of questions about how often officers used force.
In the year since protesters in Ferguson, Mo., set off a national discussion about policing, President Obama and his top law enforcement officials have bemoaned the lack of clear answers to such questions. Without them, the racially and politically charged debate quickly descends into the unknowable.
The Justice Department survey had the potential to reveal whether officers were more likely to use force in diverse or homogeneous cities; in depressed areas or wealthy suburbs; and in cities or rural towns. Did the racial makeup of the police department matter? Did crime rates?