Pa­per tracks 492 po­lice killings in 2017

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NEWS - JOHN SUL­LI­VAN, REIS THEBAULT, JULIE TATE AND JEN­NIFER JENK­INS In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Ted Mell­nik, Steven Rich, Jer­rel Floyd and Cather­ine York of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

Po­lice na­tion­wide shot and killed 492 peo­ple in the first six months of this year, a num­ber nearly iden­ti­cal to the count for the same pe­riod in each of the prior two years.

Fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice in 2017 have so closely tracked last year’s num­bers that on June 16, the tally was the same. While the num­ber of un­armed peo­ple killed by po­lice dropped slightly, the over­all pace for 2017 through Fri­day was on track to ap­proach 1,000 killed for a third year in row.

The Wash­ing­ton Post be­gan track­ing all fa­tal shoot­ings by on-duty po­lice in 2015 af­ter the 2014 shoot­ing in Fer­gu­son, Mo., of Michael Brown, who was un­armed and had an al­ter­ca­tion with the of­fi­cer who shot him. The on­go­ing Post project has doc­u­mented twice as many shoot­ings by po­lice in 2015 and 2016 as ever recorded in a sin­gle year by the FBI’s track­ing of such shoot­ings, a pat­tern that is emerg­ing again in 2017.

Since Brown’s killing in Fer­gu­son, other fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice, many cap­tured on video, have fu­eled protests and calls for change. Some po­lice chiefs have taken steps in their de­part­ments to re­duce the num­ber of fa­tal en­coun­ters, yet the over­all num­bers re­main un­changed.

Aca­demics who study shoot­ings give weight to the Post’s ac­count­ing.

“Th­ese num­bers show us that of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ings are con­stant over time,” said Ge­of­frey Alpert, a crim­i­nol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of South Carolina who has stud­ied po­lice use of force. “Some places go up, some go down, but its av­er­ag­ing out.”

As in pre­vi­ous years, the data gath­ered by the Post showed that po­lice most fre­quently killed white men and boys who were armed with guns or other kinds of weapons. One in four peo­ple killed this year were men­tally ill, and po­lice have con­tin­ued to shoot and kill a dis­pro­por­tion­ately large num­ber of black men and boys, who ac­count for nearly a quar­ter of the deaths yet are only 6 per­cent of the na­tion’s pop­u­la­tion.

This year, fa­tal shoot­ings of un­armed peo­ple have de­clined, con­tin­u­ing a trend over the past two years. In the first six months of this year, 27 un­armed peo­ple had been fa­tally shot, com­pared with 34 for the same pe­riod in 2016 and 50 in the first six months of 2015.

Black men and boys con­tin­ued to rep­re­sent a dis­pro­por­tion­ately large share of un­armed peo­ple killed, al­though their share has dropped slightly: from 32 per­cent of all un­armed killings dur­ing the first six months of last year to 26 per­cent so far this year.

Men­tal ill­ness has re­mained a fac­tor in fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings, as a quar­ter of those killed were strug­gling with a men­tal-health is­sue.

Chuck Wexler, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Po­lice Ex­ec­u­tive Re­search Fo­rum, which de­vel­ops train­ing pro­grams and ad­vises po­lice chiefs around the coun­try on pol­icy, said some fa­tal shoot­ings can be elim­i­nated.

“We know we can make a dif­fer­ence in cases where the per­son is men­tally ill and in cases where some­one is not armed with a gun,” Wexler said.

The study by the Post has found that about 8 per­cent of the na­tion’s po­lice de­part­ments have had at least one fa­tal shoot­ing since 2015. Of those, most had only one.

The pace at which of­fi­cers have been killed in the line of duty has held steady over the past two years.

Ac­cord­ing to the FBI, 21 po­lice of­fi­cers were killed from Jan­uary to Thurs­day, two fewer than in the same pe­riod last year. The 2016 year ended with 66 of­fi­cers killed, not in­clud­ing ac­ci­den­tal deaths. Since Jan­uary 2015, ac­cord­ing to the FBI, 128 po­lice of­fi­cers have been killed in the line of duty.

There is no com­pre­hen­sive gov­ern­ment data source that tracks fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice of­fi­cers. The Post data­base re­lies on lo­cal news cov­er­age, public records and so­cial-me­dia re­ports to iden­tify fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice.

The FBI gath­ers in­for­ma­tion on fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings, but that pro­gram is based on vol­un­tary re­port­ing by po­lice agen­cies and cov­ers only cases in which po­lice fa­tally shoot some­one who is com­mit­ting a felony.

The Post’s project, and a sim­i­lar count­ing ef­fort by the Guardian news­pa­per in 2015, prompted now-fired FBI di­rec­tor James Comey to call his own agency’s sys­tem “em­bar­rass­ing and ridicu­lous.” In Oc­to­ber 2016, the Jus­tice Depart­ment an­nounced that it would move for­ward with plans to col­lect bet­ter data about of­fi­cer-in­volved shoot­ings.

The FBI said it would launch on Satur­day a pi­lot study of that data col­lec­tion pro­gram that will gather a broad range of in­for­ma­tion on use of force from about 50 lo­cal and fed­eral law en­force­ment agen­cies. The FBI said it in­tends to be­gin na­tion­wide col­lec­tion of the data in 2018.

“When a po­lice of­fi­cer takes a life, that’s a sig­nif­i­cant event,” said Dar­rel Stephens, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Ma­jor Cities Chiefs As­so­ci­a­tion. The group, which in­cludes 80 po­lice chiefs and sher­iffs, helped ad­vise the FBI on the pi­lot pro­gram. “We should know on a na­tional ba­sis how many times that hap­pens and un­der what cir­cum­stances.”

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