Exactly how many people are killed by the police each year? This question has been asked with increasing urgency in the months since Michael Brown was killed by Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson last August. Brown’s death energized a movement to reform American police practices, in particular the use of deadly force. That movement, under the banner “Black Lives Matter,” has directed the nation’s attention to police killings of unarmed black Americans and spurred numerous efforts to estimate the scale of the problem.
Still, a full year after Brown’s death, the government is without a reliable system for tracking police use of force. Experts say given the nature of the phenomenon and the difficulty of measuring it accurately, it’s not likely we’ll have one any time soon. Yet recent developments, including new proposed legislation and a White House initiative, could make tracking police violence a whole lot easier.