A new study based on the open-source, open-standards, StreetCred® Police Killings in Context (PKIC) data project reveals that the number of unarmed civilians killed in confrontations with police is substantially lower than commonly stated in the media.
At the same time, 11 officers have been arrested and indicted in five cases that appeared to prosecutors to be unjustified. The non-partisan PKIC project seeks to provide objective data and contextual facts on deadly force incidents to researchers, communities, activists, journalists and law enforcement advocacy groups.
“Police-community interactions are of critical concern to law enforcement and all Americans,” said Peter Moskos, author of, “Cop in the Hood,” who is a former Baltimore City Police Officer and an associate professor in the Department of Law, Police Science, and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The facts are important. Objective projects like StreetCred PKIC are exactly the kind of data-driven approaches needed to foster better communication and informed debate.”
The non-commercial PKIC project, whose peer-reviewers come from across law enforcement, use-of-force experts, and industry, found 125 incidents in the first eight months of 2015 in which an unarmed civilian died after an encounter with police officers.
The study, “Unarmed Civilians and the Police: Analysis of data from the StreetCred Police Killings in Context Data Project,” reveals, in the vast majority of cases, officers responded to physical threats and attacks by unarmed people, or that death occurred after officers responded with non-deadly force – in those cases, deaths mainly are attributed to acute drug intoxication, or existing health conditions, or both, as opposed to police action.
The study shows that, of unarmed civilians who died after an encounter with police in 2015, almost two-thirds (81) were engaging in a violent crime, property theft or destruction at the time of their encounter with police. Another one-quarter of the incidents (31) began as traffic stops.
“‘Unarmed,’ does not mean, ‘Not deadly,’” said Nick Selby, CEO of StreetCred Software, which conducted the study, “The PKIC data contains incident after incident of unarmed people causing grave injury, and police stepping in to protect other civilians at their request.”
The study reveals:
• Nearly half of the cases did not involve a shooting, and the person died by other cause – most often a reaction or complication after deployment of tools or techniques with the intent of using non-deadly force.
• In 29% of the 69 cases in which police shot an unarmed person, officers first used a TASER before using deadly force, indicating officers’ intent to use non-deadly force prior to deadly force.
• There are non-police witnesses to 51% of all incidents. In 48% of all incidents (94% of incidents with witnesses), witnesses exclusively or partially support the police account of events.
• Unarmed Blacks, Whites and Hispanics each represented about one third in traffic stop incidents that resulted in the death of the driver. No agency had more than one traffic stop of an unarmed person that turned deadly.
• While there were incidents in which innocent people have been killed, no pattern of systemic targeting by race was present.
“There were several high-profile cases of innocent people killed in conflicts with police, yet the data support no systemic targeting by police of any racial group,” said Selby, who also serves as a police detective in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “Just under 75% of incidents in the PKIC data were responses to Calls For Service from the public. The police aren’t targeting people individually, but rather responding to the community’s identification of the suspects, and requests for help.”
While all incidents considered by the study involved unarmed civilians, the majority was engaged in violent attacks during the incident – including 26 that injured another civilian, and two that resulted in the death of a civilian at the hands of the decedent.
“As a nation, we clearly face societal problems, including critical issues of mental health, crime and violence,” said Selby, “To blame the police when violence or mayhem turns deadly is to squander the real opportunity: to leverage this passionate community concern, and engage in meaningful, fact-driven dialogue that can change for the better how police and communities interact.”
In an analysis of 420 examples, the study found the media mentioned the race of the decedent and the officer four times more when the decedent was Black.
The PKIC data includes comments and quotes from 911 dispatchers and audio, revealing 911 data on caller descriptions, complaints and statements as to whether the suspect is armed, or behaving in a dangerous manner at the time of the call.
In addition to the 65% of incidents in which the decedents were committing violent crimes against others, nine more incidents involved people who 911 callers called, “crazy,” or, “on drugs;” people who were causing disturbances while, “covered with blood,” and “yelling,” or threatening people. Three were felony fugitives in the act of escape. One was part of a gang of three wanted in a homicide and in the process of a kidnapping a woman.
The Unarmed Civilians and the Police study highlights a need to train officers to articulate more specifically the contextual circumstances, including specifics of the threat present, during use-of-force incidents.
The PKIC data shows that incident video was present in only 26% of the deadly incidents, highlighting the urgent need to adopt body-worn video cameras across the nation. This also highlights the urgent need to fund fully the secure transfer, tagging, storage and analysis of this video.
The data also points to the strong need for agencies to appoint spokespeople for individual incidents, so that police offer the community and the media clear points of contact after every deadly force incident.
About the research:
StreetCred® Software, Inc. is a Dallas-Fort-Worth-area company that creates software and services that help police agencies, courts and cities access, rank, understand, and use a vast range of data.
US Patent-pending technologies have been specifically conceived, designed, and created for law enforcement, and for no other industry. Co- founded by law enforcement officers, IT security, and intelligence processionals, and backed by individuals and firms with decades of experience in data processing and intelligence technology, StreetCred has advanced the application of true data science in law enforcement to unparalleled levels. Information is available at http://streetcredsoftware.com.