Police

Data on Shootings by Police is Even Worse Than We Thought

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As noted often here at Reason, there is no national database compiling data on shootings by police. Nothing that matches the overall number of shootings against the ones deemed "justified." Nothing that allows trends to be studied based on crime rates, officer training, local gun laws, or any other relevant metric. Nothing at all. Which is why sports websites and a few journalists and academics have volunteered to pick up the slack.

The FBI issues a "Uniform Crime Report," but does not require individual police agencies to supply them with info on police shootings, even justifiable homicides, so most agencies simply keep that info to themselves. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, police agencies in Utah reported 18 justifiable homicides by law enforcement from 2007-2012, contrasting with the Tribune's review identifying 59 homicides over that same six-year span.

If there's no data, did it happen?
Wikipedia Commons

On a national scale, the Wall Street Journal studied data from more than 100 of the country's largest police agencies and found the internal data added up to "about 45% more than the FBI's tally for justifiable homicides in those departments' jurisdictions" and also noted that "nearly all police killings are deemed by the departments or other authorities to be justifiable." 

The Tribune cites one federal effort to create an "Arrest-Related Deaths" report, by the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), "but when an audit found too many deaths missing in the BJS national data, the program was discontinued. No data after 2009 will be available." Translation: the government tried to find out how often its agents were killing its citizens, failed in its mission, and promptly gave up. 

It remains difficult to fathom how a federal government which studies the effects of video game violence every few years and employs a National Security Agency (NSA) operating on a "collect all the data" mantra would be unable to compel local police agencies, a great many of which receive gratis military equipment from the feds, into supplying basic data on the most sensitive incidents a police officer can be involved with, the shooting of a citizen. 

Brian Buchner of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement explained to the Tribune why transparency is in the interests of law enforcement:

"The absence of data makes it difficult for individual agencies, the policing profession and others to really understand what these incidents are, what agencies are more likely to have shootings, what factors influence shootings or the lethality of shootings, who is involved — so you can reduce them," Buchner said. "They're negative outcomes. Even righteous, justified shootings have a negative impact — to the person who was shot, to the officer, to the communities. You want to reduce the shootings that occur. It's hard to do that without understanding them."

Just as importantly, easily accessible data on shootings by police would allow the media and the general public to examine the particulars behind each shooting, rather than just treating them as raw numbers to be judged on their frequency.

A shooting involving a criminal initiating violence with a police officer should be treated differently than a shooting involving an unarmed man unwittingly startling a rookie cop in a housing project stairwell. But until we have access to the numbers, the bare minimum of data required to assess necessity and frequency of such incidents, a mutual mistrust will continue to exist.

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  1. I’d also give a shoutout to Cato’s National Police Misconduct Reporting Project, taken over from David Packman in 2012.

  2. It remains difficult to fathom how a federal government…would be unable to compel local police agencies…into supplying basic data on the most sensitive incidents a police officer can be involved with, the shooting of a citizen.

    Really? This doesn’t strike me as difficult to fathom at all.

    1. “Give us the numbers or we shut off the Homeland Security grant tap.”

      1. Well, Restoras may be saying that’s it is not difficult to fathom that the feds won’t mandate a simple requirement like that.

    2. The government goons are all staunch federalists who respect the boundaries of the constitution, that is of course wherever federalism and boundaries equate to maximum power for themselves.

      They’re more than happy to compel states to implement the highest drinking age in the civilized world, but where it concerns opening government up to scrutiny, well, that action would be an unconstitutional interference into the states’ righteous police power.

  3. I’ve noticed that people will stomp a puppy to give you data that makes them look good, but, gosh, if the data isn’t good for them, well, there’s no end of reasons why they just can’t come up with it.

    My working assumption is that, if you can’t give me the data, its because it makes you look bad.

    1. I’ve often wondered how much classified and redacted material is made secret simply because it would embarrass people with power.

      1. At the federal level, it’s obvious that items are classified not to keep information from the “enemy”, but to keep information from the citizens. And the boobosie refuses to recognize that fact.

        1. I think that keeping info from the citizens and keeping it from the enemy is just two ways of saying the same thing, at least when you are talking about cops.

          I mean, they are at war. Just ask them. War presupposes an enemy, and there’s nobody to fill that slot except everyone who isn’t a cop.

      2. Embarrassing people in power is a clear national security threat.

      3. I deal with a fair amount of both and from my perspective it’s essentially all above board. I did some redaction for a FOIA recently that only removed personal info, rule b6 as I recall. And the classified info I touch deals with specific locations, units and capabilities. I can’t think of an instance where I’ve seen embarrasing info classified.

        1. I saw some as a CTF S-5 in RC East. Some folks were afraid their candid assessments might see the light of day before several years passed.

        2. I’ve never seen it either Steve. Not in 20 years.

          1. Not to say it doesn’t happen. I’ve just never seen it.

    2. In this case, the data may involve statistics on actually stomping puppies.

      1. How would we tag that on the database?

        Canine fatalities, non-firearms?

  4. People measure what they think to be important.

    Obviously, number of people that government kills is not important to the ruling class.

    For the same reason, the government has made no assessment of the civilians killed in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc.

    1. And look at the detailed questions they ask us to answer on the census!

    2. the government has made no assessment of the civilians killed in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, etc.

      There were no civilians killed, they were all enemy combatants, as evinced by their being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

  5. Questions I have.

    Now that the NYPD isn’t enforcing petty crimes like speeding, etc., but investigating more serious crime instead:

    1. Can we expect to see a drop in serious crime rates? Will there be a flood of solved cases given to prosecuting attorneys?

    2. If the the answer to #1 is no, then can we expect to see cops laid off, or at least a drop in their numbers due to attrition?

    1. Oops. One more question. If the answers to #1 and #2 are both “no”, would stock in Dunkin Donuts be a wise investment?

      1. I think you mean ‘shorting stock’?

        1. I admit I’ve only had 3 cups of coffee today, but I don’t think I mean “shorting” stock.

          What I was implying was that if the cops aren’t working as much but they’re not going to be laid off, they’ve got to be doing SOMETHING during their shift, e.g. eating donuts.

          1. they’ve got to be doing SOMETHING during their shift

            Watching bowl games counts as something, right?

          2. Most likely they will be at the local brothel having sex with the ‘victims of sex trafficking.’ They do that regardless of a work slow down, so when they have nothing but time on their hands, they do what any red- blooded cop does? insist on their free samples from their local sex workers. Check into the sex scandal from a few years back in NYC- where the cops were spending their night time hours ‘protecting’ the brothels- each had his own key to get in. Never was any report on if one or more cops were fired for this.

    2. That’s some funny shit. My sides hurt from laughing.

    3. No and no.

      Those cops aren’t employed to solve serious crimes. They are employed as revenue agents for the Total State.

      Since the Total State’s overriding purpose is control of its subjects and the extraction of revenue from them, no one will be laid off. Doing so would be contrary to the overriding purpose. Rather, the cops will be catered to, because the Total State can’t do without them, and they know it.

    4. -1 broken window

  6. But until we have access to the numbers, the bare minimum of data required to assess necessity and frequency of such incidents cops are held to the same laws as everyone else without immunity, without preference, without exception, a mutual mistrust will continue to exist.

  7. A shooting involving a criminal initiating violence with a police officer should be treated differently than a shooting involving an unarmed man unwittingly startling a rookie cop in a housing project stairwell.

    All part of the War on Copz.

  8. Here’s a question:

    All those thousands of cops who travelled to DC for the funerals:

    Did they take vacation to do so?

    Who paid their travel expenses? Did they do so out of pocket, or was it paid by their departments?

    I have a very strong suspicion that this was all done on the department’s time and nickel. Which strikes me as wrong.

    1. I heard that JetBlue offered to fly two cops from each department in any city they fly to.

      Last year, I was half an hour late coming back from lunch because the cops shut down the roads to allow a caravan of cops to escort some police chief who was killed in a motorcycle accident to a cemetery.

      There were probably 200+ cops, firemen, etc from all over the state. My co-workers and I were speculating how much this little parade was costing in gas money alone, plus who knows if they were paid for the time, plus all the people they were keeping from their jobs and trying to be actually productive.

      It’s like they live in their own little world. Just because someone dies doesn’t give them the right to shut down a major road for an hour and keep everyone else from going about their day.

      1. But it was a COP that died! You’re just a non-cop, you wouldn’t understand. Please understand that costumes and tax funded legitimacy make him a better person than you and every non-cop you’ve ever met. Fact.

        1. They brought out a few MRAPs for the parade, too. In a few years, we’ll see the missile batteries and tanks like the soviet parades in front of the Kremlin.

      2. It will be interesting to see how many businesses stop offering those freebies to cops now.

      3. “It’s like they live in their own little world. ”

        They do. They live behind the thin blue line. They’re part of the ruling government class, and they’re the part with the guns and billy clubs.

        “Just because someone dies doesn’t give them the right to shut down a major road for an hour”

        Of course not. It’s the guns and billy clubs that give them the *power* to do it.

      4. A local cop was killed several years ago on the job, and it was like that turned up to 11. Shut down multiple freeways and city streets for so that 500 vehicles from almost 100 different agencies could parade for 22 miles from the memorial service to where he died and then to the cemetery.

    2. You mean on the taxpayers’ time and money. FTFY

    3. You can bet that it’s all overtime.

    4. So soldiers and cops who are killed in the line of duty (or murdered by thugs with an agenda) are indistinguishable from someone who died from diabetes? I mean, why do we even have veterans day?

      Do you really care that much that maybe hundreds of cops took a week off (with a private company offering ticket) to attend a cop’s funeral?

      1. I mean, why do we even have veterans day?

        To celebrate the people who died believing they were serving their countrymen, but who were in fact killing foreigners for the benefit of politicians.

      2. I mean, why do we even have veterans day?

        To honor our military?

        Which in no way implies that similar honors should be done for cops, who are not military?

        Do you really care that much that maybe hundreds of cops took a week off (with a private company offering ticket) to attend a cop’s funeral?

        I’m asking whether they actually took time off, or were really on the clock (and the expense account) the whole time?

        If they want to take vacation and pay for this themselves, that’s cool. And very different than spending taxpayer funds on it.

  9. Translation: the government tried to find out often its agents were killing its citizens, failed in its mission, and promptly gave up.

    More likely, they saw a disturbing trend, and opted not to disclose the data.

    1. I bet you that if you ran the numbers, the average citizen is more likely to be shot and killed by a cop than be killed by a foreign terrorists. If that’s true, that would completely destroy any credibility cops may still have.

      Another similar statistic I saw somewhere is that there are more black men currently incarcerated in our prison system than were held in slavery at its peak in the south.

      1. If you ran the numbers you’d probably find that the cops have a better (worse?) kill ratio than American ground forces during the Tet Offensive.

      2. B-b-but terrorists claim innocent victims at random. Those killed by cop should’ve just Obeyed!
        \prog/fellator

      3. I’m betting the numbers will also show that of people with guns, cops kill more innocent citizens than non-cops, which would blow a gigantic whole in the arguments for gun control – the average person shouldn’t have the same access to firearms that cops should have.

        1. cops kill more innocent citizens than non-cops

          A grand jury can indict a ham sandwich, but can’t indict a pig. It has to be really bad, and the video has to not get lost, for a cop to be punished for killing an innocent person. And even then the department and union will loudly claim it was justified.

          1. They don’t have to necessarily be indicted. We just need see the numbers for interactions with cops that should be non-violent, i.e. traffic stops versus interactions with everyday armed citizens.

            You’d have to use non-violent interaction because a cop’s interactions are more likely to require justified force – cops are more likely to interact with violent people.

          2. “A grand jury can indict a ham sandwich, but can’t indict a pig. ”

            Oh, that is catchy!

      4. I bet you that if you ran the numbers, the average citizen is more likely to be shot and killed by a cop than be killed by a foreign terrorists.

        Its not even close, unless (maybe) you go back far enough to include the 3,000 killed on 9/11.

        1. Probably not even then.

          I did just a cursory glance at the Fatal Encounters website and just checking the most populous states (CA, TX, FL, NY, and IL) came up with 1120. This database only takes entries dating to 2000 and because it relies on confirmable and web-searchable submissions probably ends up undercounting. Take that into account, count all of the states, and the citizen body count generated by cops is likely much higher than even 9/11.

          Again, probably. If you take it back 25-30 years I’m sure the cops have managed to kill far more people than terrorists.

  10. Data on Shootings by Police is Even Worse More Poorly-Kept Than We Thought

    Isn’t that the more-accurate headline, given what the facts actually are?

  11. So, the numbers aren’t available, therefore, REASON can’t conclude that cops have done anything wrong.

    And that just kills you, doesn’t it, REASON?

    No data, so you’ll just MAKE SHIT UP! These people put their LIVES on the line EVERY DAY to protect the FREEDOMS you take for GRANTED. And you don’t have data, so you just attack them.

    The blood of those two NYPD cops is on your hands, REASON. You don’t deserve the protection they provide you, but they provide it, selflessly, anyway.

    /derpfee’s retarded cousin

  12. Are we still only talking about shootings, or are we also going to include justifiable chokings and beatings which resulted in death?

    1. You WANT me to make that choke hold! YOU NEED ME to conduct that beating!

      1. STOP RESISTING! STOP RESISTING!

        You know, stop twitching and convulsing in response to your beating. Still can’t stop the convulsions? Ok, don’t say you weren’t warned!

    2. In terms of data collection, shootings will always be far more discrete than any other kind of ‘confrontation’ where there’s a very wide latitude of interpretation of ‘what actually happened’

      just in terms of record keeping – firing a gun in course of duty is a narrow category, while what constitutes ‘choking’ could cover a range of situations.

      as for the latter – even Eric Garner was not really ‘choked’ to death. He had a heart attack. Just pointing out that ‘choking’ would probably never be considered a ‘recorded act’ unless someone actually died *from that*

      1. Yeah, you need data collection on deaths during encounters with police. Something broad like that.

        A death is a pretty discrete event. Should be subject to data-gathering.

        1. Not to belabor it…

          …but obviously, something as complex as that is not easily captured in a single set of statistics that fairly describes the entire range of circumstances in which a ‘death occurs

          as noted = Garner *died*, but was not “killed” during his arrest. his cause of death was due to a heart condition.

          that medical distinction may be morally unsatisfying, but i think it helps point out why simple statistics are not going to capture ‘everything’.

      2. Right, sorta like how Kelly Thomas died from lack of oxygen to the brain.

  13. Happy New Year!
    *makes feeble yet ultimately unsuccessful attempt to cover nuts*

  14. An oldie but still a good rule of thumb:

    Just how far off those statistics are can be seen by the figures reported for Orange, Osceola, Seminole, Brevard, Volusia and Lake counties for 1999 to 2002, the last full year for which the figures are available.

    According to the Justice Department data, which are sent by Florida police agencies to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, officers in those six counties reported seven justifiable homicides by officers.

    But a review by the Sentinel and WESH found at least 28 fatal shootings by officers in those counties in that time, all ruled justifiable by prosecutors. Those were among 81 cases reviewed in which Central Florida officers had used deadly force since late 1998, killing at least 37 people.

    So, take the number of police shootings the cops report themselves and multiple by 4 to get a conservative estimate of how people have actually been killed by cops in your area.

    1. Our local PD is quite dog shoot-y, but has only shot one person in a while – and he had just murdered someone and was looking to go out shootin’.

      However, you are at a fair risk of being hit by them whilst drunk driving (off duty, mostly).

  15. Brian Buchner of the National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement explained to the Tribune why transparency is in the interests of law enforcement:

    “The absence of data makes it difficult for individual agencies, the policing profession and others to really understand what these incidents are, what agencies are more likely to have shootings, what factors influence shootings or the lethality of shootings, who is involved ? so you can reduce them,” Buchner said.
    ####

    Buchner is an idiot. The last thing a distributed bureaucracy wants is centralized collection of performance metrics.

    The PDs *want* it to be difficult to understand which PDs suck. Duh.

    Transparency is in the interest of the bureaucracy? What planet is this guy from?

    1. He is attacking them from their “yes, we really are dedicated public servants” flank. If they drop the mask and say “we don’t give a shit about any of that” then he has done us all a service as well.

  16. Isn’t it interesting that the U.S. doesn’t collect statistics on shootings by the same people they are providing with major military arsenals, even tanks? Or maybe one of its agencies, like the DOD or NSA, IS collecting data to see how ready local law enforcement will be to start shooting innocent civilians when the federal government declares martial law . . . .

  17. Due to Separation of Powers, and the ruling in Prinze, the Feds cannot compel a lower jurisdiction to do anything that would require the expenditure of funds unless they are willing to pay for it.
    Plus, the local PD’s have political considerations to deal with, which means they down-grade many crimes to lesser offenses in their reports so the Chief/City Manager/Mayor look good at election time.
    If Diogenes were alive today, he would be searching for the truthful government report.

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