In America, there is virtually a database for whatever you care to research, tracking trends and showcasing statistics on everything from peanut allergies, to adverse reactions from cosmetics, to killer bee attacks. Many of these databases are either administrated by government funded organizations or non-profit organizations. Some statistics may make you feel a bit unnerved by your 1-in-1,523-people likelihood, for instance, of being killed by a surgical procedure. But perhaps more unsettling than any data that you may find in a public database is the absence of a public database altogether on a particularly significant subject.
Digging deeply into the preponderance of useless information and nauseating statistical analysis spreadsheets, you will not find any information on police brutality or innocent fatalities in the public domain… not without the inside track and a high level of clearance. Wikipedia has set up the basic infrastructure for such a database, but since citizens and journalists alike are not privy to this information, the annual lists are incomplete and most years are left completely blank.
Why Don’t News Agencies Give Us ANY Statistics on Police Violence?
In 2001, the New York Times ran an article as quoted,
Despite widespread public interest and a provision in the 1994 Crime Control Act requiring the attorney general to collect the data and publish an annual report on them, statistics on police shootings and use of nondeadly force continue to be piecemeal products of spotty collection, and are dependent on the cooperation of local police departments. No comprehensive accounting for all the nation’s 17,000 police departments exists.
“I was rather surprised to find there are no statistics,” says former FBI agent Jim Fisher. “The answer to me is pretty obvious: the government just doesn’t want us to know how many people are shot by the police every year.”
Fisher was also a criminal justice professor who took up the responsibility of starting his own database to document fatal police shootings in 2011. His count, although extremely limited to simple daily internet searches, resulted in a whopping 1,146 shootings by law enforcement officers, with 607 of them being fatal.
Why don’t news agencies report on this unsettling story involving police violence? Do they have something to hide? Have police departments collectively been inept enough to accidentally or negligently avoid databasing police homicides?
The Database is Only Accessible to the FBI, and it is Flawed & Incomplete
It’s called the UCR (the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program) and it’s inaccessible to the public. The exact number, although we live in the age of Wikileaks, has somehow managed to remain secret from the public. However, were it made public it would still be fundamentally flawed in calculation for the following reasons:
- The UCR represents only “justifiable killings” and not the gross total of police homicides where police were found unlawful in behavior
- Only 750 police agencies of the 17,000 total submit their raw data to the FBI, so the UCR represents less than 4.5% of the national average
- All killings are self-reported, based on the honor system, with no auditing performed by the FBI or any other external agency to check the veracity of reportings
- No updates are made to the UCR when homicides are later found to be mislabeled justified or not.
- The UCR does not include killings in federal jurisdictions, such as federal prisons, embassies, or military bases
- Lastly, according to FiveThirtyEight.com, “Basic UCR reports don’t include any information on victims or offenders. That data is provided to the FBI via a separate form, also called the Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR). The circumstances of each death are supposed to be recorded here, with classifications like “gangland killings” (code 46), “lovers triangles” (code 40), and “felon killed by police” (code 81).”
UCR’s Faulty Methodology
According to FiveThirtyEight.com,
Illinois, for example, changed its reporting guidelines in 2010 to comply with UCR methodology, and data is only available prior to 2010 for the state’s largest cities. And then there are cases like Dallas, which in 2007 quietly redefined what it considers an aggravated assault, lowering its violent crime figures in the database. Such discrepancies are a major problem for UCR reporting of non-fatal crimes.
Many independent journalists have attempted Freedom of Information Act requests which have been thwarted by officials.
In a USA Today interview, University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert said the UCR essentially confirms that a death has occurred but does not validate much else.
I’ve looked at records in hundreds of departments and it is very rare that you find someone saying, ‘Oh, gosh, we used excessive force.’ In 98.9% of the cases, they are stamped as justified and sent along.’
The True Estimate of Annual Police Killings in America
That count only includes homicides that occurred during the commission of a felony. This total doesn’t include justifiable homicides committed by police officers against people not committing felonies and also doesn’t include homicides found to be not justifiable. But still, this severe undercount far outpaces the number of cops killed by civilians.
Taking into consideration the flaws listed in the previous national average, actual projections, albeit still conservative, are closer to 8,863 people killed annually in the United States by law enforcement officers.
The US State Department reports that only 17 people are killed worldwide from acts of terrorism. You are 521 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than you are to be killed by an act of terrorism. Not that all police are created equal, but the real terrorists in this country wear gold badges and are funded by your tax dollars.
Police Violence Steadily Rising in Recent Years, Citizen Violence Declining
While a report recently filed on FBI.gov admits that statistics of police being murdered was declining from 2004-2009, US law enforcement continues to arm itself against the very citizens it is sworn to ‘protect and serve.’ The DHS has purchased several billion rounds of ammunition in recent years and has heavily increased training for controlling large domestic ‘violent resistance.’
According to Infowars.com,
On FEMA’s Center for Domestic Preparedness site, a listing for Program J, known as “Field Force Operations,” details how DHS has been training state and local law enforcement “to prepare for and successfully mitigate threat incidents involving civil disorder” should “National Special Security Events” or NSSEs occur.
The site continues,
“Activities included in this course are mass arrest procedures, team tactics, demonstrator tactics, crowd dynamics and mob behavior, use of riot control agents and less lethal munitions, and the employment of personal protective equipment (PPE).”
Recently, the NYPD has essentially gone on strike, virtually all police work has grinded to a halt, and the city has not descended into ruins. Citizens are, in fact, just fine without them.
Citations for traffic violations fell by 94 percent, from 10,069 to 587, during that time frame. Summonses for low-level offenses like public drinking and urination also plunged 94 percent — from 4,831 to 300. Even parking violations are way down, dropping by 92 percent, from 14,699 to 1,241. Drug arrests by cops assigned to the NYPD’s Organized Crime Control Bureau — which are part of the overall number — dropped by 84 percent, from 382 to 63.
And to throw one more gut-wrenching statistic into the mix, 86% of federal prisoners are incarcerated for victimless crimes. While the US imprisons its citizens at 5 times the world average, police suspected of unjustifiable homicides are often given administrative leave with pay and benefits intact.
Hope: Two New Open-Sourced Police Violence Databases
Luckily, conscious citizens are beginning to take notice of this issue. Two independent initiatives have been launched to help correct this public safety issue and push back against the militarized law enforcement’s inimical march towards a total police state.
Deadspin has launched an open-sourced Police Shooting Database which you can read more about here.
Brian Burghart, editor of Reno News & Review and founder of Fatal Encounters, another open-sourced database for deadly police violence, reports his motivation for starting the campaign.
I started to search in earnest. Nowhere could I find out how many people died during interactions with police in the United States. Try as I might, I just couldn’t wrap my head around that idea. How was it that, in the 21st century, this data wasn’t being tracked, compiled, and made available to the public? How could journalists know if police were killing too many people in their town if they didn’t have a way to compare to other cities? Hell, how could citizens or police? How could cops possibly know “best practices” for dealing with any fluid situation? They couldn’t.
The bottom line was that I found the absence of such a library of police killings offensive. And so I decided to build it. I’m still building it. But I could use some help. You can find my growing database of deadly police violence here, at Fatal Encounters, and I invite you to go here, research one of the listed shootings, fill out the row, and change its background color. It’ll take you about 25 minutes. There are thousands to choose from, and another 2,000 or so on my cloud drive that I haven’t even added yet. After I fact-check and fill in the cracks, your contribution will be added to largest database about police violence in the country. Feel free to check out what has been collected about your locale’s information here.
More Subtle Police Violence Resulting in Suffering & Death
The enforcement of unjust laws, such as Fort Lauderdale’s new law prosecuting anyone who feeds the homeless, results in legitimate human suffering and possible death. The law was passed to “help cut down on the number of homeless people within city limits.” How? By starving them to death?
Oathkeepers is a coalition of police officers pledging to disobey any orders that are unconstitutional, inhumane, or could lead to nefariousness. However, trust is not to be left solely with the Oathkeepers because that would be redundant. We, the small but powerful plebeians of society, ruling in numbers, must uphold our own sovereignty and defend ourselves against the many faces of tyranny.
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