WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday said the federal government needs to keep track of how many individuals are injured or killed by police officers, as well as keep better records of officer fatalities.
Recent high-profile incidents in which police officers have killed unarmed citizens have called attention to the lack of a proper count of how many people are killed by police officers each year. Speaking at a Justice Department event honoring Martin Luther King Jr. on Thursday, Holder said obtaining better data on police shootings, as well as police officer deaths, is the "first step" in working toward ensuring police officers' safety and upholding the rights of citizens.
"I've heard from a number of people who have called on policymakers to ensure better record-keeping on injuries and deaths that occur at the hands of police. I've also spoken with law enforcement leaders -- including the leadership of the Fraternal Order of Police -- who have urged elected officials to consider strategies for collecting better data on officer fatalities. Today, my response to these legitimate concerns is simple: We need to do both," Holder said.
"This would represent a common-sense step that would begin to address serious concerns about police officer safety, as well as the need to safeguard civil liberties," Holder continued. "The troubling reality is that we lack the ability right now to comprehensively track the number of incidents of either uses of force directed at police officers or uses of force by police."
Holder suggested that law enforcement agencies may lack "sufficient incentives" to report officer-involved shootings, and said many local agencies also don't properly report the injuries and deaths of police officers.
"This strikes many -- including me -- as unacceptable," Holder said. "Fixing this is an idea that we should all be able to unite behind."
In the speech, Holder also said he was "troubled and deeply disturbed by recent mischaracterizations" of the Obama administration's regard for police officers, whom he called "true American heroes -- whose patriotism, integrity and commitment to the highest standards of excellence are simply beyond question." Holder, whose brother is a retired police officer, said the White House's support for law enforcement "has been both strong and unambiguous" and that his personal support for police officers "has been steadfast" throughout his career.
Holder said the murder of two New York City police officers last month has given a "new urgency" to ongoing discussions about the need to reduce crime and build eroded public trust. He said that in discussions with police officers and citizens over the past several months he has been "struck not by the differences that have emerged, but by the remarkable commonalities."
"Let me be clear: None of these goals are in tension. None of our aims are in conflict. And so it is incumbent upon all of us to protect both the safety of our police officers and the rights and wellbeing of all of our citizens," Holder said.
This post has been updated with more remarks from Holder.