Why Politically-Savvy Lawyers Should Never Be Allowed To Set Data Standards

I didn’t think Obama could appoint an Attorney General worse than Eric Holder. Clearly, that was a failure of imagination on my part (boldface mine):

Attorney general Loretta Lynch says the federal government should not require police to report fatal shootings of civilians, sharply diverging from her predecessor Eric Holder’s stance on police killings.

In a conversation with NBC journalist Chuck Todd on a range of criminal justice issues, Lynch said on Thursday that she does not support a federal mandate to report people killed by police.

One of the things we are focusing on at the Department of Justice is not trying to reach down from Washington and dictate to every local department how they should handle the minutia of record keeping, but we are stressing to them that these records must be kept,” she said at the Washington Ideas Forum, hosted by AtlanticLIVE and the Aspen Institute.

Lynch said the Justice Department does “encourage” local departments to maintain records on police shootings but that improving police-community relations is more important. She noted that the small size of the average police department could make record-keeping difficult.

Let’s leave aside the ridiculous notion that recording police shootings and improving police-community relations is some kind of zero-sum game. Anyone who analyzes data for a living knows that data always have limitations. But you can’t even begin to make sense of your data if they are collected in an unstandardized way. Revisiting the nut graf again:

“One of the things we are focusing on at the Department of Justice is not trying to reach down from Washington and dictate to every local department how they should handle the minutia of record keeping, but we are stressing to them that these records must be kept”

Right now, any ‘big data’ or even not-so-big data scientist’s just exploded. You always need data standards (e.g., what counts as a police shooting) and a standard data format. Without a standardized format, it’s just a Tower of Babel.

But it’s not like this matters or anything….

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4 Responses to Why Politically-Savvy Lawyers Should Never Be Allowed To Set Data Standards

  1. anthrosciguy says:

    More than simply not being zero-sum, I think that reporting police killings and shootings, with enough data to do follow up analyzing, is a critical component to improving police-community relations. It’s impossible to do the latter without doing the former.

  2. Min says:

    “She noted that the small size of the average police department could make record-keeping difficult.”

    Well, we do not know how many people are shot or killed by police each year, but how about a ballpark figure of 1 every 2-5 years for the average police department? How hard is it for them to keep track of that figure?

  3. Dbp says:

    I think it’s quite telling that “how many people are government representatives shooting/killing?” Is apparently considered to be minutiae.

  4. jrkrideau says:

    I read the linked article and followed the citingTheCounted link.

    So, the best source of statistics on police killings in the USA is coming from a British newspaper. Sounds reasonable to me.

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