(CNSNews.com) - Testifying at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, FBI Director James Comey agreed that it is hard to address the issue of implicit bias in policing when there is no reliable data on the races of the people involved in police actions.
"This is one of the most important issues we confront in the FBI -- I think we confront as Americans," Comey told Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) who raised the issue of race and policing. "Every conversation, in my view, about the use of force and race and policing in this country is uninformed."
But Comey plans to change that: "We will build a nationwide database...that shows us what happened, who was involved, what were they like, what were the circumstances, so we can have informed conversations," he told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. (A day later, Comey told a House panel he expects the database to be up and running in a year or two.)
"People of tremendous goodwill (are) trying to resolve these things. What we can contribute as a country is information to that conversation...so the great people who care deeply about these things can come to solutions that are practical and just.
"We simply must collect data that is reliable nationwide about police use of deadly force, in connection, in altercations encounters with civilians. We simply must. If there is anything inherently governmental than that, I can't imagine what it is. But we're now in a situation where we've got newspapers that are the only source for that kind of data. And their data isn't comprehensive.
"We are going to do this. I have spoken to -- one of the beauties of a 10-year term is I am not going to shut up about this. I've got seven years to go, Comey said.
"I -- no one in this country knows whether the use of deadly force against any particular group, African-Americans most particularly, is up, down or sideways over the last 10 years, nobody knows. Do we have an epidemic of violence? No one knows that. We could, we might not, we simply must gather the information so we can care deeply and solve these problems."
Comey previously has said that demographic data on police-involved shootings is not consistently reported to the FBI through its uniform crime reporting program because the reporting is voluntary. Therefore, the FBI data is incomplete.
But even the incomplete data "shows an alarming fact pattern in our country," Sen. Booker said. He asked Comey if that incomplete data indicates a "policing crisis in this country."
"I believe we have a chasm in this country that, in many places, where a divide is open and opening between law enforcement and communities, especially the African-American community," Comey responded. "It is -- the causes for it are complicated and long-standing, but not elusive, right, we can stare at it. We have problems, things we can do better in law enforcement that are obvious and we're working very hard to change."
Comey said everyone wants the same kind of policing: "Moms and dads and law enforcement want the same kind of policing, up close, responsible, lawful, firm, but fair policing; transparent. We are safer when we have it, and the good news for America is there are a ton of police leaders who feel exactly as I do, and we are going to drive that chasm closer together because it's the way to solve -- save lives in this country."