Woog reported that, "Scott Bowman, Howard Williams and Jordan Taylor Jung, of Texas State University, have documented more than 200 police shootings that were not reported to the AG's office, but should have been. This is around 15 percent of the total deaths in police custody that were missing, and when looking at the subset of deaths by police shooting, more than 25 percent were unreported." See their analysis.
The academics discovered these undisclosed police shootings by using the media-analysis methodology pioneered by the Guardian and Washington Post in their national compilations of police shootings. They found more than 200 which had not been reported to the Attorney General in which it would have been required under state law.
The crux of Woog's op ed suggested a change to incentivize reporting of heretofore covert police shootings where criminal penalties have failed. Here's how the article concluded:
Right now, compliance with the custodial death reporting statute is tied to a criminal penalty for failing to report, a Class B misdemeanor. But actual enforcement of the law requires that local law enforcement investigate, and local prosecutors prosecute, local law enforcement violations.
Unsurprisingly, I could not find a single prosecution under this law in its 30-plus year history.
Instead of relying on an apparently never-been-used criminal penalty that depends on police policing the police, compliance should be tied to funding and enforced by state authorities.One wonders whether these weren't reported because there were problems at the shoots agencies didn't want to reveal, or if the culture of noncompliance and disrespect for the statute has simply reached the point where law enforcement knows their colleagues will never hold them accountable and so just do what they please.
Withholding funding for failing to report custodial deaths is currently being discussed on the federal level. In recent years, the Bureau of Justice Statistics in the U.S. Department of Justice has been under fire for state and local law enforcement agencies' underreporting in the federal custodial-death reporting program. In response to recent proposed rule changes by the BJS, a coalition of organizations led by the ACLU and NAACP wrote a letter to Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling on the DOJ to "condition federal criminal justice grants on data collection and reporting on police-civilian encounters."
Texas should do the same. In fact, there's precedent in our state for withholding grant funding from local authorities that fail to comply with criminal justice data-reporting requirements. In 2012, when counties were not adequately updating criminal history records as required by state law, the Criminal Justice Division under Gov. Rick Perry conditioned eligibility for CJD grants on counties' 90 percent or above compliance with the reporting law. Within eight months of the CJD's announcement, 172 counties became compliant with the minimum reporting standard.
Strengthening Texas' custodial death statute by withholding funding from counties not complying with the law could be accomplished by executive action through the governor's office, or by the Legislature amending the law to explicitly condition certain grants upon reporting compliance. Texas needs new incentives that encourage law enforcement to report in-custody deaths and deter agencies from concealing them.
MORE (10/9): The Houston Chronicle's Lise Olsen has a story on these unreported police shootings. The Houston Police Department (16) and the Harris County Sheriff (12) were the Texas agencies with the most unreported shooting deaths.