No letup in pace of po­lice killings

ON TRACK FOR 1,000 3RD STRAIGHT YEAR To­tal of blacks shot still dis­pro­por­tion­ately high


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. Al­though 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 a row.

The Wash­ing­ton Post be­gan track­ing all fa­tal shoot­ings by on-duty po­lice in 2015 in the af­ter­math of the 2014 killing 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 Fergu-

son, other fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice, many cap­tured on video, have fu­eled protests and calls for re­form. 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 it’s av­er­ag­ing out. This is our so­ci­ety in the 21st cen­tury.”

As in pre­vi­ous years, the data gath­ered by The Post showed that po­lice most fre­quently killed white males who were armed with guns or other kinds of weapons. One in 4 peo­ple killed this year were men­tally ill. And po­lice have con­tin­ued to shoot and kill a dis­pro­por­tion­ately large num­ber of black males, 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 were fa­tally shot, com­pared with 34 for the same pe­riod in 2016 and 50 in the first six months of 2015.

Black males 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 for the same pe­riod this year.

One of those seven un­armed black males killed was Jordan Ed­wards, a 15-year-old high school fresh­man who was shot in April by a po­lice of­fi­cer in a Dal­las sub­urb. An of­fi­cer in Balch Springs opened fire with an AR15 ri­fle on Ed­wards and his friends as they drove away from a party, ac­cord­ing to news re­ports. The depart­ment ini­tially said the teens tried to back over the of­fi­cer but re­tracted the state­ment af­ter of­fi­cials re­viewed video of the shoot­ing. The of­fi­cer, who is white, has been fired and charged with mur­der.

Men­tal ill­ness has re­mained a fac­tor in fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings, as a quar­ter of those killed were strug­gling with some form of men­tal ill­ness. Last month, Seat­tle po­lice shot and killed Charleena Lyles, 30, a preg­nant woman suf­fer­ing from men­tal ill­ness, af­ter she called 911 to re­port an at­tempted bur­glary at her home. Po­lice said Lyles pulled a knife on two of­fi­cers, who both shot her. The Seat­tle Times re­ported that one of the of­fi­cers, trained to use a Taser, was not car­ry­ing it, a vi­o­la­tion of the depart­ment’s pol­icy.

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.

“All deadly force sce­nar­ios are dif­fer­ent, and you could have five in a week and then not have any for a year,” said Rodolfo Llanes, chief of the Mi­ami Po­lice Depart­ment.

Llanes noted that his depart­ment of 1,250 of­fi­cers has gone as long as a year with­out fir­ing a sin­gle bul­let. “[But] there will be that sit­u­a­tion where there is a con­fronta­tion and deadly force is used. Po­lice work is in­her­ently ugly,” he said.

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 June 29, 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.

In Tulsa, po­lice shot and killed one per­son in an 18-month stretch, and then, in the sec­ond half of 2016, of­fi­cers shot and killed six, in­clud­ing Ter­ence Crutcher, an un­armed black man whose death led to crim­i­nal charges against an of­fi­cer. Last month, that of­fi­cer was ac­quit­ted of a charge of first-de­gree man­slaugh­ter.

This year, Tulsa of­fi­cers have fa­tally shot four peo­ple.

Tulsa Po­lice Chief Chuck Jordan said that his agency re­viewed its use-of-force pol­icy af­ter the surge in shoot­ings in 2016 but that there was not much the depart­ment could change.

“We’re a re­flec­tion of the so­ci­ety we live in,” Jordan said.

In Los An­ge­les from Jan­uary 2015 to the end of last month, city po­lice of­fi­cers shot and killed 47 peo­ple, the most for any U.S. po­lice depart­ment in the pe­riod.

Of­fi­cials with the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment said they have been work­ing to re­duce the num­ber of deadly en­coun­ters. In the past two years, the depart­ment ex­ten­sively tracked use of force, added train­ing and up­dated its use-of-force pol­icy, which now re­quires of­fi­cers to “de-es­ca­late” con­fronta­tions be­fore fir­ing their guns.

This year in Los An­ge­les, fa­tal shoot­ings are down to seven, which Matthew John­son, pres­i­dent of the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Com­mis­sion, con­sid­ers a small vic­tory.

“All th­ese things in con­cert are go­ing to have an im­pact on the need to use deadly force, but that’s not to say we’re not go­ing to have a bad quar­ter or a bad year,” said John­son, who made re­duc­ing the num­ber of fa­tal shoot­ings a pri­or­ity when he took over as pres­i­dent of the com­mis­sion in 2015.

About 360 miles away, Phoenix po­lice have em­pha­sized re­forms but are lead­ing the na­tion in fa­tal shoot­ings in 2017. Of­fi­cers there have fa­tally shot eight peo­ple, more than any other depart­ment.

The re­forms be­gan in 2014, af­ter a year in which the Phoenix Po­lice Depart­ment said it ex­pe­ri­enced an un­usu­ally high num­ber of fa­tal and non­fa­tal shoot­ings by its of­fi­cers. The agency be­gan an un­prece­dented re­view of those vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions, mod­el­ing some of its re­forms on those used in Las Ve­gas, where po­lice re­duced shoot­ings from 11 in 2015 to three in 2016. This year, Las Ve­gas has had five fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice.

Phoenix po­lice were re­trained in tac­tics to de-es­ca­late en­coun­ters and avoid re­sort­ing to deadly force.

On June 23, a Phoenix po­lice of­fi­cer fa­tally shot a mo­torist when the driver ac­cel­er­ated to­ward him as the of­fi­cer ap­proached the car on foot. Two days later, po­lice killed a man who fired a ri­fle at a po­lice he­li­copter and pointed the weapon to­ward of­fi­cers.

In Fe­bru­ary, Phoenix Po­lice Chief Jeri Wil­liams de­fended her depart­ment in an op-ed for the Ari­zona Re­pub­lic: “None of our of­fi­cers wanted to be put into a po­si­tion where they felt they had no other choice but to use deadly force.” She wrote that in each shoot­ing, her of­fi­cers had ex­hausted other op­tions. “It was their last re­sort.”

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.

Aca­demics cau­tion that fa­tal shoot­ings are rare events in the uni­verse of po­lice-civil­ian in­ter­ac­tions and say that more-com­plete data is needed about all po­lice use of force.

“What we re­ally need to know is how many times po­lice shoot peo­ple, not just how many of those peo­ple die,” said David A. Klinger, a crim­i­nal jus­tice pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Mis­souri in St. Louis who stud­ies po­lice use of force.

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 peo­ple who are com­mit­ting felonies. The Post’s data has re­vealed a dra­matic un­der­count by the FBI.

The Post’s project, and a sim­i­lar count­ing ef­fort by the Guardian news­pa­per in 2015, prompted now-fired FBI di­rec­tor James B. 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 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.”

Sa­muel Walker, an ex­pert on po­lice ac­count­abil­ity and a crim­i­nal jus­tice pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ne­braska in Omaha, said that be­cause of the large num­ber of U.S. po­lice agen­cies, years of re­forms may be re­quired be­fore the num­ber of shoot­ings de­clines.

“There is no sin­gle quick fix,” Walker said. “You have to have a re­ally sys­temic ap­proach.”

Ted Mell­nik, Steven Rich, Jer­rel Floyd and Cather­ine York con­trib­uted to this re­port. This ar­ti­cle was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with the In­ves­tiga­tive Re­port­ing Work­shop at Amer­i­can Univer­sity, where Thebault, York and Floyd are stu­dents.


LEFT: John Thompson is em­braced af­ter speak­ing June 16 out­side the Min­nesota State Capi­tol in St. Paul fol­low­ing Of­fi­cer Jeron­imo Yanez’s ac­quit­tal on all counts in the fa­tal shoot­ing of Phi­lando Castile. RIGHT: A woman in Seat­tle cries June 20 at a vigil for Charleena Lyles, a men­tally ill woman fa­tally shot by po­lice when she called of­fi­cers to her home, then con­fronted them with a knife.


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