Friday, September 5, 2014

We Still Need More Information on Police Shootings

This post discusses an article that I saw from CassandraRules, who tweeted this article claiming to have the definitive number of police shootings, responding to this disturbing article in USA Today that reported 400 "justifiable" homicides per year reported to the FBI from local law enforcement agencies.  The article is correctly more interested in those deaths that cannot be justified, and looked to count those numbers.  The problem lies in their extrapolating the comprehensive data for August (a disgusting 104 deaths this month alone) (I congratulate and appreciate their work here) and using that number--104 deaths in August--to create a number of police killings for the whole year.

Quoting from the article:
The total for August alone: 104 deaths.
You can review the list on Wikipedia as "List of killings by law enforcement officers in the United States, August 2014."
(emphasis mine)
Of course, 104 per month, over 12 months, would come to 1,248 deaths - an annual count significantly higher than the FBI's estimate of 400.
That is my whole problem with the article, but it is still a big problem.  They do a great job collecting the data of police killings in August 2014.  At first I thought the source was a Wikipedia article, but having 44 Wikipedians is very different than just citing a Wikipedia article that anyone can edit.  They even break down the total 104 even greater into smaller statistics and personal details.
But a closer reading of the list will make an honest American cry.

Innocent bystanders died - three of them. Four officers committed suicide. Twelve, like Michael Brown, were under 21 - just starting out in life. Many - it's impossible to say how many, but quite clear it was too many - were affected by mental illness, alcohol or drugs. Law enforcement officers killed people with mental illness in Arizona, Michigan, Colorado, Maryland, Alabama, New Jersey, Kansas, our state of Oregon, Missouri, and California.
Debunking the "104 killed every month" was easy.  I found 29 killed in August 2013
Just to show how easy it was to debunk this idea that because there were 104 people killed in August means that 104 were killed every month, I looked at the list for August 2013 and found 29, not 104.

I will still look at other months but it is time consuming--if anyone would like to help that would be great!  you can email me or comment on any articles with the month and year and the total number of people on the list.

So even without much scrutiny I debunked the "104 killed every month means 1248 a year" claim made in the article.

Another way to look at the estimated "400 justifiable" homicides each year by police, 400 divided by 12 is 33.33, so again if on average 400 are killed justifiably each year by police, it can be counted many ways.

Some examples are:
  • 400 divided by 12 months equals 33 people every day
  • 100 could be a total that are killed "quarterly,"  but not necessarily every day or month
January February March-----------100
April May June---------------------100
July August September-------------100
October November December-----100
  • Or 400 could be killed in random groups, sporadically throughout the year
 4, 36, 87, 54, 19, 10, 100, 39, 44, 7
There are other compilations of police shootings that are getting attention since Ferguson, including FiveThirtyEight who doesn't count justifiable homicides, as well as other databases mentioned in the article, FatalEncounters, Gun Violence Archive, Deadspin, and from this comprehensive list from 2011 by Jim Fisher who also has a good collection of Police Involved Shootings, but recently he has been writing on other subjects.

It is important to note that none of these databases count justifiable police homicides, although I did see an article (I have looked for it again) that cited 400-600 justifiable homicides by police, which does seem more accurate than 1,000, especially when taking a comprehensive count from one month and simply extrapolating it out for the rest of the year.

This article from 2011, discussing "suicide by police shooting" explains one reason why "justifiable homicides" are hard to count.

emphasis mine
“Seth,” who was 19 at the time and attending college in New Jersey, had already attempted suicide twice. He’d never been in trouble with the law but had spent years crippled by depression, and he was searching for the best way to die. Eventually, he decided the surest method was a gun. But he didn’t own one; neither did his parents.
That’s when it came to him: Police have guns.
The plan was simple: Get in the car and drive like crazy. Eventually, a cop would pull him over, and he’d do something threatening to get the cop to shoot him.

We do however come to the same conclusion: MORE INFORMATION IS NEEDED!!
our results demand certain actions:
From local media, curiosity and follow-through. Reporters must avoid simple regurgitation of police talking points. They must publish the name of the person killed, the names of the officers involved. If this information is not available, they need to ask why.
emphasis mine
The U.S. Department of Justice must survey all 17,000 law enforcement agencies, not just the handful that choose to report. We need full and accurate numbers, and gathering them should not be the province of the FBI; it is the DOJ that has an interest in civil rights and discrimination.
From local activists we need a unified voice insisting on police accountability for their communities - especially the suburban and rural areas where many of these deaths happen. This voice should come from a joining together of organizations representing persons of color and those representing persons with mental illness. In this way alone will we bring appropriate thoughtfulness, via recruitment and evidence-based training, to police agencies everywhere.

The shooting of Mike Brown was not the first police shooting of an unarmed black man.  Ferguson was not the first protest against police brutality.  Ferguson was not the first time police militarization was discussed in the media and by Americans.  Ferguson was not the first time America discussed guns, shootings, violence.  These discussions have happened before.  Shootings have happened before.  Protests have happened before.  Let's make sure our outrage doesn't stop.  Let's make sure we keep acting.

Let's work together to end gun violence.

Let's work together to end police militarization and excessive violence.

Let's prevent the next shooting before it happens.

Enough is enough.

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