Killed by police in America, and no one is tracking
May 22, 2015
The Department of Justice does not know how many civilians police officers have killed
More than 900-thousand U.S. law enforcement officers risk their lives protecting the people who live in America's cities, towns and states. And every year scores of those uniformed men and women pay the ultimate price. Last year, 117 police and other officers died in the line of duty. That's according to National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. It's a non-profit group whose records go back to 1791. The FBI also keeps thorough statistics on officers killed during felonies and by accident. So there is no shortage of information on police officers who die on the job. But here's what some people consider a different sort of crime: it's impossible to get complete data on the total number people who die in encounters with the police. That's one of many troubling facts to emerge in the aftermath of the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson Missouri, Eric Garner in New York and Freddie Gray in Baltimore. There is no single database with definitive, comprehensive figures. The Department of Justice compiles data but admits it misses as many as half of all the homicides caused by police. That's because police departments are not required to report to the federal government when someone dies in their custody or is shot by police. A recent Wall Street Journal analysis found that in 105 of the largest police departments in the country, about 45 percent of killings by officers went unreported to FBI between 2007 and 2012. One reason: records from three large states---Florida, New York and Illinois---aren't in the FBI's data.
The situation has become a growing source of frustration as the nation debates the use of lethal force and the role that race plays in police shootings. Informed debates rely on solid data that tells the whole story and isn't just a shot in the dark. To get that full story, people who care about this issue are taking matters into their own hands. Jake Ward and Jaime Hellman report.