Police guard a police station in Milwaukee in August.

Police guard a police station in Milwaukee in August. Jeffrey Phelps/AP

The Justice Department's New Police Shooting Database

The gap in data has been an embarrassment for the federal government.

The Justice Department will start collecting data on police-involved shootings.

In light of recent fatal shootings and a series of protests, the Justice Department next year will embark on what The New York Times says is “the most ambitious” project to track the use of deadly force by police officers nationwide. Activists have long complained about the gap in federal data.

More from The Times:

Under the plan, the Justice Department will gather more data on the use of force by federal agents and help local departments report information on a wider range of police encounters.

But a number of the reporting steps will rely on local police officials to voluntarily submit data, and some civil rights advocates said the Justice Department had not made clear how it would impose financial penalties set by Congress to encourage the reporting of police shootings.

Because of the gap in data, journalists and activists have had to rely on news organizations—most notably from The Washington Post—to get accurate numbers. FBI Director James Comey called this gap “embarrassing.” According to The Post, there were 991 fatal shootings by police last year. This year, there have been 754.

In a statement Thursday, Attorney General Loretta Lynch said:

Accurate and comprehensive data on the use of force by law enforcement is essential to an informed and productive discussion about community-police relations. The initiatives we are announcing today are vital efforts toward increasing transparency and building trust between law enforcement and the communities we serve.

The pilot program will start early next year and will track 178,000 federal law enforcement agents. The Justice Department will also spend $750,000 to encourage local police departments to collect data.