How often do police shootings result in civilian deaths? Nobody actually knows

We map the fatal police shootings in August

WASHINGTON, D.C. - When Michael Brown died nearly three weeks ago, he was at least the 18th person shot and killed by police this month. Since his death, approximately 35 civilians have been killed in police-involved shootings.

Brown, an unarmed 18 year-old African-American, was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, on Aug. 9. His death set in motion protests in the St. Louis suburb and across the nation.

The DecodeDC team created this map of police shootings resulting in civilian deaths. We relied on local and national news reports because – surprisingly -- there is no comprehensive government database of police shootings.

Click on a point or search for a city or state below.

 

 

 

 

The FBI collects data from state and local police agencies about the number of homicides, rapes and other crimes for its annual Uniform Crime Report, but that report doesn’t include information about individual cases.

The data used for our map comes from news reports submitted to a Wikipedia page on police shootings. The DecodeDC team verified each of the news reports before publication.

In the absence of an official database of police shootings, journalists, researchers and even Wikipedia users have stepped in to fill the information void.

USA Today and other news organizations have reported that 400 police-involved shootings occurred in 2012. That figure comes from a form that local police departments fill out voluntarily for each homicide they investigate. But, as FiveThirtyEight’s Reuben Fischer-Baum reports, the actual number is likely much higher since the form isn’t mandatory.

D. Brian Burghart, editor at the Reno News and Review, wrote in a post for Gawker last Friday about his fruitless search for a list of police shootings in 2012.

“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? 

Burghart’s website Fatal Encounters aims to do just that. Anyone can submit a Google form with information about a police shooting. Burghart invites volunteers to check the submissions against local media reports. He then makes the information available in a searchable database.

Kyle Wagner, a writer for Deadspin, is spearheading that organization’s effort to build its own database of police shootings. In a blog post last week, Wagner asked readers to contribute to the effort by searching for news reports about police involved shootings on particular days in the past three years, then submitting their results via a Google spreadsheet. Deadspin’s project is modeled on the work of Jim Fisher, a former FBI agent and nonfiction writer who used a similar method to collect his own data on police shootings in 2011. He found 607 police shootings that year that resulted in death.

Brown’s death has sparked voter registration drives in Ferguson, a review of the militarization of local police by the White House, and a social media campaign about the unequal treatment of white and black victims and perpetrators by news organizations. If Burhart and Wagner’s efforts are any indication, accurate, publicly available data on police violence could be the next front in the fight for answers in the wake of Brown’s death. 

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