A man named D. Brian Burghart has been trying to determine just how often a policeman kills someone, and having trouble.
It began simply enough. Commuting home from my work at Reno's alt-weekly newspaper, the News & Review, on May 18, 2012, I drove past the aftermath of a police shooting—in this case, that of a man named Jace Herndon. It was a chaotic scene, and I couldn't help but wonder how often it happened.And
... SNIP ...
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 biggest thing I've taken away from this project is something I'll never be able to prove, but I'm convinced to my core: The lack of such a database is intentional.
We're all painfully aware that police killings are common. But no one knows for certain how many occur. We have no count of how many such killings result in disciplinary action for the officer involved; we don't know how often the investigation is performed by an outside body and how often by the co-workers of the officer(s) involved.
And it does seem extremely odd that we don't. I can fire up my search engine and learn how many Honda Accords are sold by month (definitely picking up!), but Mr. Burghart can't find out how many people are shot by police.
Burghart is trying to crowdsource this information. You can help him at Fatalencounters.org.
I'm willing to file this one under "stuff they don't want you to know". But we should.