Statistics Help Officer Tactics
On August 9, 2014, Michael Brown, 18, was shot “more than just a couple of times” by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri, as the teen stood in the street with his hands in the air. The next day, tensions in the community erupted from angry protests to violent riots and looting. Although use of force by law enforcement officers happens on rare occasions, it puts a great strain on police-community relations. It truly is shocking that such an influential event, one that can send shockwaves through a community, through a country, one that can change the way of life for millions is not tallied in any books, not collected to be analyzed by a committee, nor made public to the people who are effected most. Moreover, “the nation’s leading law enforcement agency collects vast amounts of information on crime nationwide, but missing from this clearinghouse are statistics on where, how often, and under what circumstances police use deadly force. In fact, no one anywhere comprehensively tracks the most significant act police can do in the line of duty: take a life” (Alan Maimon). In a world where everything seems to be digitized, quantified, and compartmentalized there lives a void in a our complete and comprehensive collection and analysis of law enforcement. One officer involved shooting effects thousands in many different ways, such as the way the kids in the community see the police as a whole, the way the family members can no longer see their relative, the stress it places on the upper-level members of that police department, the time and money spent on legal fees throughout the investigation of the incident, the dramatic effect it has on the officer involved, and even the effect it has on the officers family from death threats to possibly having a husband or wife now without a job.
The goal of this research is to create a complete and comprehensive database compiling officer involved shootings around the United States starting from the year 2001. The database is called S.H.O.T or Statistics Help Officer Tactics. The SHOT project relies on the exploratory research method to analyze the police shootings from a gun violence perspective; thus, the project uses secondary research methods. Content analysis is the primary data collection method to gather more “officer-involved shooting” from open sources. Since the data to be collected is from open source documents, no human subjects will be involved. The data that will be obtained is from an assortment of newspaper sources obtained online from an archival newspaper site called NewsBank.com. This primary source for this project will be archives of numerous newspaper sources for historical research and review.
There are possibly thousands of officer-involved shootings in the U.S. over the last decade and to collect and analyze each one for the course of ten years would be truly a mission impossible for summer time period. If that were the course taken, my research would have greatly suffered leaving room for false information, insufficient information and incorrect or flawed analysis. Thus, this summer, I chose to focus on a state with one of the top rates of officer-involved shootings, California. Given California’s size, population, diversity, and varying geographic layout, it was a perfect sample to represent officer-involved shooting trends for the rest of the country.
There were some limitations during this research. Unfortunately, because of the secrecy and the opinions, from both parties, informational, nonbiased pieces on officer-involved shootings are hard to come by. Many articles and websites would be either too cut or dry, giving very little to zero information or be so clouded with opinions and quotes it became hard to see the facts from the lies. There were times when I had to search through five to ten different articles to find one with sufficient and verified information. This was of course greatly time consuming and difficult to do, but the right articles and correct facts were key to this collection of data. So, I worked through this problem of information scarcity and learned to better scope my searches and sift through unreliable and uninformative articles quickly to speed up the data collect. This project really helped my researching skills, which will be very useful for the rest of my career going forward.
The findings of the data collection revealed some interesting facts. Out of the 350 shooting incidents collected only 2.28% of victims were women leaving a staggering 97.72 % of victims as males. In terms of average age of the victims, 5.02 % of victims were over the age of 50, 13.06 % were between the ages of 40-49, 20.45 % were between the ages of 30-35, 45.73 % were between the ages of 20-29,9.09 were under 20 years old, and finally 4.54 % of victims had an age that was unannounced in shooting reports. A big discussion with officer-involved shootings is always the factor of race, I found that 3.40% of victims were Asian, 18.75 % of victims were African American, 45.17 % were Hispanic, 19.03% were White, and then there were 14.20% of victims whose races were not disclosed. A further look into the numbers also reveals many other trends and similarities; that only 32% of victims had some sort of mental state at the time of the shooting other than mentally stable (68% were mentally stable, while the 32% was comprised of depressed, intoxicated, or mentally ill). Also in terms of victims’ weapon possession I have found that 44 % of victims were in possession of a firearm at the time of the shooting, 16 % were in possession of a bladed weapon, 8% had a bludgeoning weapon, 5 % were in possession of a replica of fake gun, and 27 % were unarmed. In terms of deadly force truly earning its title, 77.14 % of shooting resulted in the death of the victim, with the rest ending in recoverable injuries. Looking at officer injury and death, only 6.5% of officers were injured, .02% of officers were killed, and 93.48% of officers were unharmed. There are other patterns that have started to develop as well throughout my research, but most of the other variables give an evenly dispersed picture with much of the data resting on the circumstances of the incident. In terms of location, number of officers, number of shots, whether there was a car chase or a foot chase, or the type of law enforcement that was involved in the shooting largely rests on the various circumstances surrounding the event.
These findings are not supposed to change the world or the impact felt from officer-involved shootings. The data is only supposed to do what data does, education. Education is the key to future success and understanding in all walks of life, and on this topic it is no different. This database is not pointing a finger at anybody, but trying to inspire change and understanding through education. SHOT is attempting to educate the police departments as to the ins and outs of events that escalade to officer-involved shootings. This hopefully will lead to better progress in trying to avoid these situations all together, because the first step to progress is collecting data and analyzing the problem. SHOT is also trying to uncover the publics yes from information on the topic. Officer-involved shootings echo throughout a community and the public deserve to get a factual account of the event without media distortion or community or officer opinions. This factual account will hopefully lead to better understanding of the actions taken by both sides and how to avoid events rising to that level.
I have learned a lot this summer by working on this research project from factual information on officer-involved shootings to just learning how to become a better researcher. There is so much that I have discovered, which truly shocked and showed me how unknowledgeable I was on this topic before I started. This was a fun and interesting project to work on and I believe that it will help me very much in my field. These skills and this knowledge I have learned will greatly help me in whatever path my future holds. I appreciate the opportunity to be able to carry out this research and analysis.