In December 92 police shootings resulted in 92 deaths of suspects

This map shows the number of police shootings in each state in December, 2015 and is from a story at National Review:

Police_dec-killings_map_1At the link to the story the map is followed by a brief description of each incident and usually includes a link to a local news story about each shooting as well. It’s interesting that more police shootings seem to occur in the West, especially California, than in the New England and Eastern Seaboard states.

It reminds me of the story about LA Police Chief William H. Parker who was an officer with the Los Angeles Police for 39 years, from 1927 to 1966, with time out for service in World War II. He was appointed chief in 1950, a position he held until July 16,1966 when he died of a heart attack.

When Parker became chief he took command of a very corrupt police force. In the ensuing years he turned it into a much less corrupt and much more professional force, but soon allegations of police brutality were ascendant. Eastern police forces were always known for corruption (otherwise organized crime could not have been so entrenched there) but police brutality charges were not common. The mantra became, “Cops in the East are corrupt but they are less likely to shoot you. Cops in the West are not as corrupt but they’ll kill you.” Whether that was ever true is in the eye of the beholder but some grain of truth was there, and according to the map above it still is.

Over 1100 people were killed by police during all of 2015. That may seem like a lot but a sentence that reads “[insert any number you want] people were killed by police last year,” doesn’t really tell us anything except that, if the number is big, you might think the police are killing a lot of people. But that doesn’t tell whether the shootings were justified or not justified.

The National Review story concludes that the facts we know so far do not support the claim of such protest groups as Black Lives Matter that cops are getting away with murder. All officer involved shootings are investigated first by the particular department involved and then (or simultaneously) by some other State agency such the Department of Criminal Investigation in Wyoming, and in Colorado by the District Attorney’s office for the county where the shooting took place.

In all cases that I know of when the official investigation is concluded a detailed report is issued that is a matter of public record and can be viewed by anyone. In Denver, for example, all officer involved shooting reports are posted at denverda.org as soon as the investigation is completed. In other counties in Colorado the written reports are available by calling the DA’s office and asking for a copy. I’ve never even been charged for copying and the reports have been provided in a courteous manner.

I read them for the legal resources, statutory and court authorities that are cited in them. These don’t just save time when doing legal research but also provide valuable knowledge of how the prosecutors view various fact situations and the laws that govern the interpretation of the facts. They also let the reader know exactly why the particular decision was made and the factors that influenced it.

Because of this experience I read a story like the one in National Review today with a great deal of trust:

The Myth of Police Shootings Collapses Under The Weight of facts. In a project titled “The Counted,” the Guardian is tracking killings by police in the United States and has compiled a comprehensive list for the year 2015. The tracker was motivated by much-discussed but poorly founded concern about excessive use of police force particularly against blacks. In December, police killed 92 people — 21 blacks, 40 whites, 17 Hispanics/Latinos, five Asians/Pacific Islanders, and nine of unknown race. Fourteen were unarmed, including five blacks. Those who were unarmed reportedly still posed other types of threats to officers. These threats included physical violence and ramming officers with a vehicle.

Most of these reports are based largely on the accounts of eyewitnesses and the officers involved and so might not include all relevant details, such as results from ongoing police investigations. But the available facts fail to support the claim, made most prominently by the movement Black Lives Matter, that police systematically target unarmed black men. Of note among those who were killed is, however, the prevalence of mental illness.

Right, We don’t know at this point how many of those shootings were “suicide by cop.” The one in which the Las Vegas cops shot a man who was holding a something behind his back (turned out to be a cell phone) and refused all commands to drop it and show his hands very well could have been just that.

The National Review story was written without the benefit of the kinds of final investigative reports such as I have detailed above. But you can read all the news reports in the local media which are cited in the story. Local media reports are based on no more than what the official spokesman for the police tell them plus whatever witness accounts they might have. Journalists are notoriously lazy and usually don’t work very hard trying to find witnesses.

I feel confident that the great majority of the 92 killings in December will turn out to have been justified, and if any don’t the officers involved will be prosecuted.

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