Tracking Police-involved Killings in the US

A Gawker article caught my eye this weekend. It is entitled: “What I’ve Learned from Two Years Collecting Data on Police Killings.” In it, I expected to learn about different state and national agencies and watchdog groups that do just that. Much to my dismay, no one really does. That is, with the exception of two or three reporters who’ve recently started, no one really does.

With the rise in police-involved shootings since the start of the Great Recession alone, along with a much greater awareness of police militarization, one would think federal agencies, including Congress, would be tracking this. They’re not.

Some of the findings quoted in the Gawker and Deadspin pieces are simply appalling:

A few days ago, Deadspin’s Kyle Wagner began to compile a list of all police-involved shootings in the U.S. He’s not the only one to undertake such a project: D. Brian Burghart, editor of the Reno News & Review, has been attempting a crowdsourced national databaseof deadly police violence. We asked Brian to write about what he’s learned from his project.

It began simply enough. Commuting home from my work at Reno’s alt-weekly newspaper, theNews & Review, on May 18, 2012, I drove past the aftermath of a police shooting—in this case, that of a man named Jace Herndon. It was a chaotic scene, and I couldn’t help but wonder how often it happened.

I went home and grabbed my laptop and a glass of wine and tried to find out. I found nothing—a failure I simply chalked up to incompetent local media.

I started to search in earnest. Nowhere could I find out how many people died during interactions with police in the United States. Try as I might, I just couldn’t wrap my head around that idea. How was it that, in the 21st century, this data wasn’t being tracked, compiled, and made

available to the public? How could journalists know if police were killing too many people in their town if they didn’t have a way to compare to other cities? Hell, how could citizens or police? How could cops possibly know “best practices” for dealing with any fluid situation? They couldn’t.

The bottom line was that I found the absence of such a library of police killings offensive. And so I decided to build it. I’m still building it. But I could use some help. You can find my growing database of deadly police violence here,

Comparative Database

This database contains the incidents for which the most complete information has been compiled from …Read on fatalencounters.​org

To get to the rest of this must-read article, click:


The Gawker article has lots of links inline. If I could only follow one, it would be to Kyle Wagner of Deadspin, His self-explanatory piece entitled, “We’re Compiling Every Police-Involved Shooting In America. Help Us,” not only is a must-read, but a must-act-upon piece:

The United States has no database of police shootings. There is no standardized process by which officers log when they’ve discharged their weapons and why. There is no central infrastructure for handling that information and making it public. Researchers, confronted with the reality that there are over 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the country, aren’t even sure how you’d go about setting one up. No one is keeping track of how many American citizens are shot by their police. This is crazy. This is governmental malpractice on a national scale. We’d like your help in changing this.

Here, we’re going to take a cue from Jim Fisher, who as far as we can tell has compiled the most comprehensive set of data on police shootings in 2011. Fisher’s method was simple: He searched for any police-involved shooting every day for an entire year. By our lights, this is the best way to scrape this information—any time a police officer shoots and hits a citizen, it will almost certainly make a local news report, at least. However, this is a time-intensive process, and our manpower is limited. Having gathered some of the data, we can say it will take the few of us here a very long time to do this on our own. So, we’re setting up a public submission form and asking for help with this project.

Here are our guidelines:

  • Using Google’s search tools, isolate a single day (e.g. Jan. 1, 2011, to Jan. 1, 2011) and search for the term “police involved shooting” (don’t use quotation marks). Use Chrome’s Incognito mode when searching to ensure you aren’t getting local results.
  • Read each link on the first 10 pages of results; for any instances of shootings involving a police officer, log them in the spreadsheet.
  • We’re looking at 2011, 2012, and 2013, and tracking date, name, age, gender, race/ethnicity, injured/killed, armed/unarmed, city, county, state, agency, number of shots, a brief summary, and a link to a story about the incident are to be filled out as best as possible given the information in all stories about the incident.
  • Before starting in, take a look at the submissions here and pick a day that no one has begun. Remember, we’re starting off looking at just the past three years.
  • Often, the first day of reports will not have personal details, and a second search of subsequent days will fill in more of the story.
  • A later death, after a person is hospitalized in a police-involved shooting, is considered a death for our purposes.
  • We are looking for any incidence of a police officer shooting and hitting another person.
  • We are not looking for incidences of police officers discharging their weapons and hitting no one. In a perfect world these would be tracked, since often the only difference is that the shot missed, but these incidents are not as thoroughly reported and would probably bias the data.
  • Please keep the data as neat as possible. Work within specific months, make sure you’re in the correct year, keep the columns clean and add peripheral information in the Summary portion, etc.

We’re making this fully public, and anyone can jump in and lend a hand. This is a trial—we’d love it if this turned out well, but if it doesn’t, we’re prepared to complete it on our own, or with more targeted assistance. But we think this is a necessary thing, and we are trusting you all to not be dicks in there.

Obviously, if you have a better idea for how to gather this data, or have access to an already-compiled set, let us know. The submission form is below. [ .. ]

Click through to Deadspin to see the form and the rest of this article.

Please, get involved. Help Kyle Wagner by contributing to his database.



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