Published on Portside (https://portside.org)
Fatal Shootings by Police Are Up Over 2015
July 8, 2016
Kimberly Kindy, Wesley Lowery, Steven Rich, Julie Tate
Thursday, July 7, 2016
As the use of deadly force by police once again roils the nation, the number of fatal shootings by officers increased from 465 in the first six months of last year to 491 for the same period this year, according to an ongoing two-year study by The Washington Post. This year has also seen more officers shot and killed in the line of duty and more officers prosecuted for questionable shootings.
Two years after a white police officer fatally shot a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., the pace of fatal shootings has risen slightly, while the grim encounters are increasingly being captured on video and stoking outrage.
On Tuesday, a black man in Baton Rouge was fatally shot when two white officers pinned him to the ground outside a convenience store. The event was captured in a video that went viral online, and within hours, the Justice Department launched a civil rights investigation. On Wednesday, an officer in Falcon Heights, Minn., fatally shot a black man during a traffic stop. The aftermath of the shooting also was captured in a video that has received widespread attention.
“I feel change is not coming,” said Porsche McCullough, whose 29-year-old black female cousin was shot and killed by an Asian San Francisco police officer in May. “The community is tired. They are tired of seeing black people shot, poor people shot, people with substance-abuse problems shot.”
A Post database  that tracks fatal shootings by police shows a 6 percent increase in the number of such deaths during the first six months of 2016, compared with the same period last year. Fatal encounters are strikingly similar to last year’s shootings: Blacks continued to be shot at 2.5 times the rate of whites. About half of those killed were white, and about half were minorities. Less than 10 percent of all those killed were unarmed. One-quarter were mentally ill.
But there are notable differences: More of the shootings were captured on video, 76 in the first half of 2015 and 105 in the first half of this year. And the number of fatal shootings of black women, such as that of Jessica Nelson-Williams in San Francisco in May, has risen. Nearly the same number of black women have been killed so far this year as in all of last year — eight this year, compared with 10 in all of 2015.
Last year, The Post began to log every fatal police shooting in the nation, analyzing more than a dozen details about each event. The project revealed that in 2015, nearly 1,000 people were fatally shot by police, more than twice the average annual number reported by the FBI in previous years.
The Post has expanded the effort in 2016, culling media reports and filing hundreds of public-records requests to obtain the names and work histories of officers involved in fatal shootings — information that is not tracked by any federal agency. More than 360 officers’ names have been added to the database, and more names will be included as The Post obtains additional information.
As was the case in 2015, in most fatal shootings by police this year, officers were confronted by subjects armed with guns. In half of such cases, those persons fired at police, prompting officers to fire their own guns to defend themselves or to protect bystanders. In the first six months of this year, 20 officers were fatally shot in the line of duty, compared with 16 in the first six months of 2015, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
Officials representing rank-and-file officers say it is criminals who make it hard to reduce the number of fatal shootings by police.
“Police are dealing with a lot of violent individuals,” said Jim Pasco, executive director of the Nashville-based national Fraternal Order of Police. “And the criteria for using deadly force hasn’t changed essentially, so why would the numbers change?”
After Ferguson, pleas for reforms focused on reducing certain types of shootings, such as those of individuals who are unarmed or experiencing mental-health crises as opposed to violent criminals who initiate shootouts with officers.
What followed was a White House task force that called for teaching officers new skills to de-escalate volatile encounters. Hundreds of police chiefs also pushed new policies for dealing with the mentally ill. And thousands of departments began outfitting officers with body-worn cameras, hoping this would curb the use of excessive force.
The FBI also vowed to improve its collection of data on the fatal use of force by police. The agency said that in January 2017, it would start to compile a more accurate tally and would collect dozens of details about the incidents to analyze the events.
But widespread compliance with the FBI’s initiative by police associations and departments isn’t expected until 2019. The agency is seeking unanimous consent from numerous police groups regarding what data should be collected, a process that is still underway. And thousands of departments will need to equip themselves with the software to properly track and report the data. Even then, reporting will not be mandatory.
Training reforms, which the White House and police chiefs have embraced, also are rolling out in a slow, scattershot fashion. There are about 18,000 police departments in the nation, many with their own training academies and unions, making it impossible for them to move in lockstep.
There will be a “lag time” before there is a measurable drop in deaths, even among the departments that are earnestly embracing reforms, said James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston.
“It takes time to get everyone through training,” Fox said. “It takes time to change a culture.”
The nation’s focus in 2016 shifted away from fatal shootings by police and toward a historic and often bizarre presidential campaign — in which policing policy has received little widespread attention. Dozens of shootings, however, continued to generate outrage in local communities.
In San Francisco, Porsche McCullough’s cousin, Jessica Nelson-Williams, died on a foggy May morning as she tried to flee from San Francisco police down a dead-end street driving a stolen Honda Accord. Sgt. Justin Erb fired a single shot into the car, striking Williams, killing her.
It was the third fatal shooting by police over the past seven months in the city. All of the dead were homeless; all of them minorities. Within hours, a makeshift memorial sprouted on the spot where Nelson-Williams died — the familiar jumble of flowers and candles that has marked the scenes of police shootings in cities across the nation.
The local protests have rarely led to the nationwide demonstrations that turned past police shooting victims such as Brown, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, and Walter Scott in North Charleston, S.C., into household names.
“Are we becoming anesthetized to these violent events? Are they happening so often we no longer feel moved?” said Cedric Alexander, the police chief in DeKalb County, Ga., and a member of the White House Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
This week’s fatal shootings by police of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castile in Minnesota have brought back the national outrage. How long it lasts remains to be seen.
In 2016, fatal shootings by police are increasingly captured by cameras, a Post analysis shows. In the first six months, at least 105 shootings have been recorded in whole or in part by police-worn body cameras, surveillance cameras, cameras mounted on patrol cars or bystanders’ smartphone cameras.
At this point last year, that number was 76.
The biggest shift has been in the use of body-worn cameras: 63 of the shootings were recorded in this way through June, compared with 34 for the same period in 2015.
The videos have been a linchpin for prosecutors, activists and city mayors who want to hold police chiefs and officers accountable for questionable shootings.
Graphic video of fatal shootings has led to the firing of several police leaders, including Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy in December. On May 19, San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr stepped down at the urging of the city’s mayor, Ed Lee, hours after Nelson-Williams was killed in the city. Although Nelson-Williams’s killing was not captured on video, San Francisco police were recorded in the preceding months fatally shooting two homeless men.
Read the remainder of this investigative report here .
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