The Washington Post recently compiled a statistical database of police shootings in the U.S. for 2015, primarily using information gathered from “interviews, police reports” and “local news accounts”. The results of the year-long investigation may be startling to some: as of Christmas eve, 965 civilians have been killed by police gunfire.
Perhaps more surprising is that less than four percent of the 965 deaths were the result of white officers killing unarmed black suspects. The majority of the shootings involved armed, mentally disturbed, or fleeing suspects.
However, black men accounted for 40 percent of the unarmed deaths at the hands of officers – a demographic which only comprises six percent of the total U.S. population.
In contrast, 36 officers were shot to death while on duty in 2015.
As a result of the seeming increase in police violence over the past two years, highlighted by the incidents of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Eric Garner in New York City, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, and Laquan McDonald in Chicago, the indictment of police officers for civilian fatalities has also increased three-fold.
Most experts credit greater police accountability to the use of video recording devices such as body and dash cameras, although less than half of the country’s 18,000 departments reported their shooting incidents to the FBI.
“We now microscopically evaluate for days and weeks what they only had a few seconds to act on,” said Les Neri, president of the Pennsylvania Fraternal Order of Police. “People always say, ‘They shot an unarmed man,’ but we know that only after the fact. We are criminalizing judgement errors.”
In 10 of 18 cases attempting to indict police officers of felony crimes in 2015, the state has used video evidence. Five of seven actual trials have ended in acquittal or have been ruled a mistrial.
To stop police violence, a number of big-city departments have adopted “use-of-force” policies. In towns such as Las Vegas, Boston, and New York, more restrictive rules on officers has reduced the number of shootings; however, an independent review by George Mason University of 33 separate studies on pursuit policies found that more restrictions on use of force by officers has also led to an increase in the local crime-rate.
In 2017, the FBI will be moving to a “near real-time” data base to store information on fatal police encounters, a move senior FBI official Stephen Morris is calling the agency’s “highest priority.”
Washington Post analysis found twice as many fatal police shootings in 2015 than the FBI had reported on average every year since 2006.