Was 2015 a particularly bad year for police shootings? Were unarmed African-American men disproportionately killed in encounters with police? Or did it just feel that way, thanks to the newfound attention being paid to officer-involved shootings since 18-year-old Michael Brown was killed on a Ferguson, Missouri, street in August 2014?

The answers to those questions are elusive. The data required to prove or disprove theories spun by protesters, politicians or police are not available. Until recently, it wasn’t routine for police departments or state or national agencies to gather and release information about the use of deadly force.

Thankfully, that appears to be changing. In December 2014, while protests continued over the death of Brown and others, Congress finally passed the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2013, a reauthorization of an expired 2000 law that Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., had been pushing for years.

The latest version of the law is superior to its predecessor in that it has teeth, albeit not terribly sharp ones. States that do not comply with the requirement to report annually on people who die while being arrested or in police custody can lose 10 percent of the funding they receive under the federal Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act. The original law was voluntary and simply ignored by some states.

It will still be a couple years at least until these laws and initiatives translate into solid data that can fully answer some of the bigger questions about race and policing. But one thing is already settled: Counting police killings is finally a national priority.