WASHINGTON, Jan. 15 (UPI) -- The United States must do a better job of tracking killings by police officers and the killings of police officers, Attorney General Eric Holder said Thursday.
In a speech at a Martin Luther King Jr. birthday memorial event, Holder attempted to bridge the divide between protesters angry at police-involved killings, especially those of unarmed black men, and police who say they are risking their lives with insufficient support.
"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," he said. "This strikes many -- including me -- as unacceptable. Fixing this is an idea that we should all be able to unite behind."
The failure of grand juries to indict the officers believed responsible for the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York City set off a wave of protests. On Thursday, which would have been King's 85th birthday, protesters held sit-ins on Interstate 93 north and south of Boston, snarling rush hour traffic.
Police have also protested. In New York, officers turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio at ceremonies after two officers were shot by a man apparently angry over the killing of Williams and Garner.
The FBI records both police deaths and police-involved killings but depends on voluntary reports from law enforcement agencies. Those have a tendency only to report killings found to be "justifiable."
Congress recently approved a bill that would require all deaths during or after arrests to be reported to the federal government.
Holder said his brother is a retired police officer.
"In short, they are true American heroes -- whose patriotism, integrity, and commitment to the highest standards of excellence are simply beyond question. I know this," he said. "And I have been troubled and deeply disturbed by recent mischaracterizations of this administration's regard for those who wear the badge."
A preliminary report released late last year showed a significant increase in police deaths in the line of duty in 2014 over the previous year. But the report said deaths in both years were low by historical standards and shootings of police officers have declined sharply since their high in the 1970s.