The United States has no database of police shootings. There is no standardized process by which officers log when they've discharged their weapons and why. There is no central infrastructure for handling that information and making it public. Researchers, confronted with the reality that there are over 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the country, aren't even sure how you'd go about setting one up. No one is keeping track of how many American citizens are shot by their police. This is crazy. This is governmental malpractice on a national scale. We'd like your help in changing this.
Here, we're going to take a cue from Jim Fisher, who as far as we can tell has compiled the most comprehensive set of data on police shootings in 2011. Fisher's method was simple: He searched for any police-involved shooting every day for an entire year. By our lights, this is the best way to scrape this information—any time a police officer shoots and hits a citizen, it will almost certainly make a local news report, at least. However, this is a time-intensive process, and our manpower is limited. Having gathered some of the data, we can say it will take the few of us here a very long time to do this on our own. So, we're setting up a public submission form and asking for help with this project.
Here are our guidelines:
- Using Google's search tools, isolate a single day (e.g. Jan. 1, 2011, to Jan. 1, 2011) and search for the term "police involved shooting" (don't use quotation marks). Use Chrome's Incognito mode when searching to ensure you aren't getting local results.
- Read each link on the first 10 pages of results; for any instances of shootings involving a police officer, log them in the spreadsheet.
- We're looking at 2011, 2012, and 2013, and tracking date, name, age, gender, race/ethnicity, injured/killed, armed/unarmed, city, county, state, agency, number of shots, a brief summary, and a link to a story about the incident are to be filled out as best as possible given the information in all stories about the incident.
- Before starting in, take a look at the submissions here and pick a day that no one has begun. Remember, we're starting off looking at just the past three years.
- Often, the first day of reports will not have personal details, and a second search of subsequent days will fill in more of the story.
- A later death, after a person is hospitalized in a police-involved shooting, is considered a death for our purposes.
- We are looking for any incidence of a police officer shooting and hitting another person.
- We are not looking for incidences of police officers discharging their weapons and hitting no one. In a perfect world these would be tracked, since often the only difference is that the shot missed, but these incidents are not as thoroughly reported and would probably bias the data.
- Please keep the data as neat as possible. Work within specific months, make sure you're in the correct year, keep the columns clean and add peripheral information in the Summary portion, etc.
We're making this fully public, and anyone can jump in and lend a hand. This is a trial—we'd love it if this turned out well, but if it doesn't, we're prepared to complete it on our own, or with more targeted assistance. But we think this is a necessary thing, and we are trusting you all to not be dicks in there.
Obviously, if you have a better idea for how to gather this data, or have access to an already-compiled set, let us know. The submission form is below.
A very big thanks to Sergio Hernandez for getting us straight with the submission form.
If you have any questions at all, or if you'd like to be involved in the project going forward, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image credit: Scott Olson / Getty Images News