Another day, another quantifiable reason we need a comprehensive national
database documenting fatal shootings by police.
Just yesterday, I wrote about the scores of people over the past five years who had been unarmed and/or shot in the back by Georgia police. Later in the day, the Washington Post released a report that shows at least 55 officers who had previously fired their weapons in fatal shootings were involved in fatal shootings this year.
The number could actually be significantly higher, because of the 743 killings by police identified in the first 9 months of thus year, police agencies only gave the Post data relating to 367. The Post also notes, "Many departments withheld officers' names from the public or released only vague details, making it impossible to precisely determine how many officers have been involved in multiple shootings."
Though there has been a push for more than two decades to get the Department of Justice to demand data from local departments pertaining to shootings by police, agencies are still not required to maintain and submit such data. This has led to a number of journalistic outfits to step in where the government continues to be derelict in its duty, and create their own databases.
Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist cited in the Post's article puts the current situation succinctly, "It's a national embarrassment. We don't even know how many times cops pull their triggers."
There are some reasonable explanations why certain officers are involved in multiple shootings. For example, being attached to a narcotics unit in a particularly violent neighborhood or assigned to a SWAT team could present more opportunities for deadly altercations.
But considering most police will never discharge their weapons while on duty in their entire career, the (admittedly flawed and incomplete) statistic of 1 in 8 officer-involved shootings this year involving repeat shooters is troubling and worthy of further examination.
2015 represents the year when shootings by police began to be thoroughly examined and documented. Perhaps in 2016 the government will get in on the act of analyzing the use of deadly force by its agents of the law.