A new report conducted by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta's Channel
2 Action News reveals a "disturbing" number of unarmed people have been killed by police since 2010, with nearly two out of every five shot in the back. Perhaps as disturbing, not a single police shooting was ruled to be unjustified during this period.
Responding to an issue we've covered in great detail here at Reason (that no national database for police shootings yet exists), the sweeping report notes that the federal government has failed for more than two decades to move toward some transparency and accountability regarding police shootings:
In 1994, Congress ordered the U.S. Department of Justice to start collecting excessive force data and issuing annual reports on its findings. The agency didn't follow through…
In Georgia, the under-counting by the FBI system has been significant and longstanding. Over a five-year period, the AJC/Channel 2 investigation found more than twice as many fatal shootings than were identified by the FBI…
Local police agency reporting to the FBI is optional. The GBI [Georgia Bureau of Investigation], which helps the federal government gather data in Georgia, said that only 16 of the more than 600 police agencies in Georgia reported the justifiable homicide data to the agency.
The reporters associated with this report interviewed more than 100 people and meticulously combed through data pertaining to Georgia police shootings over the past six years:
The files included police incident reports, investigative notes, crime scene photos and videos, medical examiner reports, autopsies and other records. The team examined death records to identify demographic information about civilians shot by police, consulted law enforcement agencies to determine the demographic, personnel and training records of police officers, and built a database to analyze the information. Reporters examined the mental state of those shot, the circumstances that led to a confrontation with police, the presence or absence of weapons and the training and backgrounds of the officers involved. Using death records, autopsies, investigative records and media reports, reporters learned the location of wounds for those killed.
Some important takeaways from the report:
- 18 people were shot solely in the back. 52 other people were shot in the back and on other parts of their body.
- About one out of every four people killed had some form of mental illness. Of these, at least 16% were military veterans.
- At least 20 officers involved in a fatal shooting had "serious prior issues documented on their records," including being fired from other law enforcement jobs for lying or failing to complete required training.
- More than one-third of fatal shootings involved people shot in their own homes, usually after police had responded to a call for help.
- Most of the fatal shootings analyzed involved situations with armed individuals threatening officers, with about 1 in 4 having fired a gun at some point during their altercation with police.
A likely reason none of these shootings were ruled unjustified is because of the special privileges Georgia police officers enjoy during grand jury investigations, including the right to be present during the entire process and "give a statement at the end that cannot be questioned by prosecutors or grand jurors."
In 2014, Reason TV covered a truly horrific case involving an 80-year-old man who was shot by police while lying in his own bed. Watch below: