Jordan Candler / April 19, 2016

Police Shooting Fatalities: Behind the Numbers

Nearly 1,000 people were fatally shot by law enforcement last year.

Nearly 1,000 people were fatally shot by law enforcement last year. Of them, 948 were male, 783 brandished a deadly weapon, the victims were predominately white (494) compared to black (258), and most (353) were between the ages of 30 and 44. These are just a few of the details chronicled in a highly detailed Washington Post database that was launched when several years ago “Wesley Lowery was surprised to discover that there were no official statistics about such fatalities,” the Post says. That effort paid off. Yesterday the Post was awarded a Pulitzer Prize “[f]or its revelatory initiative in creating and using a national database to illustrate how often and why the police shoot to kill and who the victims are most likely to be.”

The Post further explains that the database “soon yielded new insights into the use of deadly force by the nation’s police officers.” It continues: “The data showed, for example, that about one-quarter of those fatally shot had a history of mental illness; that most of those killed were white men (although unarmed African Americans were at vastly higher risk of being shot after routine traffic stops than any other group); and that 55 officers involved in fatal shootings in 2015 had previously been involved in a deadly incident while on duty. Another important finding: The vast majority (74 percent) of people shot and killed by police were armed, and killed after attacking police officers or civilians. This finding countered the impression left by several high-profile fatalities that police routinely use excessive force [emphasis added].”

As Reason notes, the database is already leading to reforms, which is a good thing because some police departments desperately need it. But on the flip side, crime is increasing countrywide because of the Ferguson Effect. It’s not often we get to say this, but this award seems appropriate, and the Post’s project will hopefully help strike a balance. Probably 99% of these police shootings were justified, but police aren’t above accountability either. The biggest question remains though: Even though we now have hard evidence, will the grievance industry actually weigh the facts in lieu of their prejudices?

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