Skip to main content

From Gawker

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.

... 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

I'm willing to file this one under "stuff they don't want you to know". But we should.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  My brother is the exception. He was a cop out on (16+ / 0-)

    patrol one night when he got into a foot chase with a petty thief.  He cornered the guy and had the drop on him, when he noticed the guy was holding a gun down by his side.  He wasn't pointing it, but he wasn't dropping it either.

    My brother didn't shoot him.  He talked to him like a hostage negotiator until the guy voluntarily dropped the gun and surrendered.  

    Now, if he had pointed the gun I would hope my brother would have protected himself, but I'm glad he didn't have to.

    As far as I'm concerned, that was the most gallant thing he ever did during his career.

    Some people would say he was stupid.  But you know what?  He survived for an entire career, arrested some of the worst sorts you can imagine, was never wounded, and never fired a shot at anyone.  Not even once.

    Ted Cruz president? Pardon my Vietnamese, but Ngo Pho King Way.

    by ZedMont on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 01:28:00 PM PDT

    •  Sadly, there are a lot of cops like that out there (9+ / 0-)

      but there's a lot of bad ones, too.

      Then there is the issue of systemic corruption. Take a look at Ferguson. The city uses citations as a major form of income. Even a good cop will be corrupted by participation in a system like that. Or, driven out of the local force.

      It's not so much the individual cops, I think sometimes, but the system in which they operate which is corrupting and ultimately, demeaning to our democracy.

      "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

      by commonmass on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 01:47:37 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  There's the system, yes, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        but then there are also individuals who feel that b/c they ostensibly uphold the law, they are above the law.

        I remember an encounter I had with one such in NYC's Midtown South precinct. He screamed at me, but that was the extent of it (my white privilege saved me, I'm sure. Plus there were numerous witnesses looking at him like he was a psycho). Flash forward a couple of years: his photo is in the Daily News along with a story about him (and other members of Midtown South) frequenting a bordello during duty hours.

        Apparently they were getting free...whatever...for not arresting anyone at the bordello. That at least was the implication.

        Some people just should be screened out on psychological grounds before they are ever given a badge.

        English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education - sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. E. B. White

        by Youffraita on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 12:18:31 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Evidently, there was no really detailed (9+ / 0-)

    police report filed in the Ferguson case. Not even filed.

    I think you're right: they don't want us to have access to that information.

    This country needs a sweeping reform of policing at all levels and a whole hell of a lot more transparency and accountability. What it does NOT need is more military equipment.

    "To take another person's life from the bench is no better than to take another person's life from the street"

    by commonmass on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 01:44:42 PM PDT

  •  This one's for you, Blue: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blue aardvark, chimene

    For an idea that does not at first seem insane, there is no hope.
    - Albert Einstein:  Leftist, socialist, emo-prog, cosmic visionary.

    by Pluto on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 01:50:43 PM PDT

  •  hey, blue! my hunch is that the (6+ / 0-)

    departments surely know, but, as you suggest, purposefully, it is not collected to present outside of the law enforcement circle.
    sort of an exception might the mandated compilation and release of college campus crime stats; tho I know for sure some forces cleverly devise to underreport to appear safer and avoid adding to student, parent, and neighborhood fear.
    perhaps a researcher could fashion a method to find the numbers anyway; which is a good idea.

    for the love of humanity please protect the light in all that may glow and try not to make anyone else's path more cruel than it would be on its own.

    by renzo capetti on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 01:59:15 PM PDT

  •  There is an ICD code for it (4+ / 0-)

    "Legal intervention." You can analyze the national mortality data for that ICD code to find them.

  •  The FBI tracks certain statistics that you can (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    blue aardvark, renzo capetti, chimene

    check out to see if they're approximately what you want.
    These are categorized as 'justifiable homicides' by law enforcement in the line of duty. If they have stats for unjustifiable homicides by law enforcement in the line of duty I haven't found them.

    •  And that is an unreliable number (4+ / 0-)
      But all we know is that every time we look at these FBI statistics about justifiable homicides by police and we compare that to a count that we can get internally as researchers in major police departments, the FBI numbers are lower than the numbers we get from the police department.
      Also, from the same All Things Considered segment:
      I've actually heard police executives say that they don't want to have a national reporting system because then people will compare and say, well, you know, this police department shoots more people than that police department. And it'll lead to problems. My argument is report it out. If you have a problem - if your agency is shooting too many people, then do something about it. But if all of your shootings are appropriate, then you have nothing to worry about.

      And without getting into the minutia of how we, as social scientists, can look and say whether a police agency is out of round, shall we say, in terms of their rate of shootings, we can start to look at this. And we can start to explain what might be accounting for the variation in the level of deadly force across police departments. But that is part of it. I have heard that expressed, and I just think that's a poor argument.

      “Texas is a so-called red state, but you’ve got 10 million Democrats here in Texas. And …, there are a whole lot of people here in Texas who need us, and who need us to fight for them.” President Obama

      by Catte Nappe on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 02:35:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  The comment downthread from (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        ColoTim, blue aardvark, Catte Nappe

        pat of butter gave me an idea to the CDC's annual cause of death study, which I'm starting to look at now. I'm using the 'Legal Intervention' category as the comment suggests.

        At first glance, it seems the CDC number is close to the FBI number but I have to study it further. I haven't looked all the way through and I want to see if there's a more recent version.

    •  Note the footnote (3+ / 0-)
      1 The killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty.
      Wouldn't cover Mike Brown, for one.

      Purity is for primaries; in the general, our worst are better than their best.

      by blue aardvark on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 03:04:34 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Turns out the CDC methodology which tracks by (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        blue aardvark

        death certificate is only marginally more accurate than the FBI which only tracks cases for law enforcement and the judicial system. Using death certificates is more thorough
        because mortality is final whereas criminal cases can go unresolved for years.

        For 2011, the CDC reported 492 deaths while the FBI reported 404.

        The CDC's bigger number doesn't mean it includes every single individual killed by a cop. There are categories for "events of undetermined intent" that may or may not include police actions.

        •  But, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          blue aardvark

          the legal intervention ICD code doesn't ascribe intent, does it? I thought undetermined were those that it was uncertain if they were homicide or suicide, but if law enforcement is involved it is coded to legal intervention.

          •  I just checked the ICD code definitions and (1+ / 0-)

            they're more detailed than the abbreviated descriptions in the CDC document.

            The IDC definition says:

            Legal intervention
            Incl.:injuries inflicted by the police or other law-enforcing agents, including military on duty, in the course of arresting or attempting to arrest lawbreakers, suppressing disturbances, maintaining order, and other legal action
            It goes into further detail that seems to encompass all imaginable situations involving police.

            The undetermined intent section definition says:

            This section covers events where available information is insufficient to enable a medical or legal authority to make a distinction between accident, self-harm and assault. It includes self-inflicted injuries, but not poisoning, when not specified whether accidental or with intent to harm (X40-X49). Follow legal rulings when available.
            It would seem that police actions don't belong in this category by definition. However, in situations where there is no legal ruling available, isn't it possible that some deaths involving police could be categorized as undetermined unless a court decides otherwise?
    •  hmm, that link only goes to the page for (0+ / 0-)

      Y35, injuries. It SAYS it's a "morbidity" table but none of the lines says anything about fatalities. Maybe I don't understand the definitions???

      "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

      by chimene on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 08:15:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Real good to have you back, Blue. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    freerad, blue aardvark

    Hope your batteries are charged for election season.

    •  I still have nearly unlimited supply of snark (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I am going to try to spare Kossacks from being the target thereof. There's so damn many Republicans.

      Hell, Louie Gohmert keeps Charles Pierce busy, and I stand in awe of Pierce's snark.

      Purity is for primaries; in the general, our worst are better than their best.

      by blue aardvark on Fri Aug 22, 2014 at 03:06:06 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site