It is heartening to see reports of the recent decrease in police involved shootings in Chicago. With high profile police shootings capturing the media’s attention and horrific police shooting stories capturing the nation’s heart, it is encouraging to have some better news to report – especially coming from Chicago, a city with such a checkered history of police misconduct. What makes Chicago’s news particularly encouraging is that it’s not just happenstance – it seems to be the result of a conscious effort on the part of Chicago police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to ensure that officers are trained and supervised in a way that encourages restraint. According to police department statistics, from January 1 through May 19, 2015, Chicago Police Department officers fired their weapons at people on 10 occasions, a dramatic decrease from 18, over the same period last year; 25, during this period in both 2013 and 2012; and 37 in 2011. Of the ten police shootings this year, officers hit their human target 5 times, once fatally.
In what seems an unbelievable void, however, there are no national statistics tracking police shootings, so the dramatic rise in this form of violence that seems to be occurring elsewhere in the country has not been properly documented. Police departments are free to track (or not track) their own police shooting statistics, but most don’t compile detailed data for obvious reasons: they worry about liability and bad press. Moreover, departments that do track their shooting statistics often don’t openly share the information, even when they do compile it. And the statistics that are gathered often leave out the pertinent details that would really help inform on the issue, such as the race of the victims, whether the victim was armed, the shooting officer’s history of shooting suspects, non-fatal shootings, etc. Additionally, tracking efforts often omit data about hit rates, lighting conditions, number of shots fired, and how many officers and suspects were present, information that would provide insight into the shooting officer’s stress level when the shooting occurred and might help departments learn more about how to prevent police shooting fatalities.
In cities that do track shooting statistics, deeply troubling patterns emerge. In New York City, for example, tracking records show that in 2014, 75% of all police shooting victims were black, as compared with white victims, who accounted for less than 2% (Hispanic victims accounted for most of the balance). And yet, New York City is a relatively safer place for black people to face police officers: a black person 5 times more likely to be killed by police in St. Louis than in New York City, for instance.
In the absence of national statistics, citizen groups have emerged to fill in the gaps and track police shootings. An informative and surprisingly entertaining (given the serious subject matter) video discusses recent police shootings, describes the absence of federal tracking, and details the efforts of one crowdsourced organization to compile a comprehensive list. Another tracking organization provides the powerful interactive map featured above, so you can determine how many police shootings there are in different regions of the country. Yet another organization allows you to track deaths at the hands of police by year, race, and manner of death. The Guardian also has a useful tally. But despite the obvious demand – as evidenced by the numerous grassroot efforts – the federal government has thus far not joined the tracking effort.
And one thing is clear — without the tracking of such patterns, it is harder to affect change. When such patterns are tangible, steps to curb police shootings are offered, such as efforts to equip officers with body cameras to record encounters, to better train officers for dealing with mentally ill suspects, to enlist third party review of police shootings, and to institute grand jury reform.
Loevy & Loevy has had tremendous success in suing police departments for unwarranted police shootings. If you or someone you know has been victimized by a police shooting, feel free to contact Loevy & Loevy for a free consultation.