Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Press pick up on police shooting discrepancies

Nice to see the mainstream media pick up on the work of one of Grits' fabulous new contributing writers, Amanda Woog, whose new Database of Officer Involved Shooting Incidents at the UT Austin Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis documented lapses in reporting by the Texas Department of Public Safety and other agencies. Last week, she broke the news on Grits, and the Houston Chronicle followed up Nov. 6 with an item titled, "DPS, other police agencies failing to report officer-involved shootings." Reported John Barned-Smith:
House Bill 1036 requires agencies provide certain details such as the ages, gender and races of officers and suspects involved, as well as whether the suspect was armed, injured or killed. It also requires law enforcement agencies to report incidents where suspects shoot officers. Agencies must report shootings within 30 days, and the AG's office has five days to post reports online.

The creation of the database comes after almost a year of nationwide scrutiny of law enforcement's use of force, following a series of lethal incidents between peace officers and civilians that led to riots and protests in many cities. News organizations also discovered that federal data collection did not count many incidents across the country, spurring some outlets to create their own databases.

Databases maintained by The Washington Post and The Guardian count 13 fatal shootings in Texas by police since September 1 - six in that month alone. Those databases do not count officer-involved shootings which are not fatal.

According to the data from the AG's office - which does - there have been 24 officer-involved shootings that have occurred since September 1 and one incident where an officer was shot.
However, criminal justice watchdogs noticed that just half of September's fatal shootings listed on the Post and Guardian databases appeared in the AG's database.

Three shootings - in Ponder, McKinney and Paris - were not listed. In two of the incidents, police said civilians were killed after firing at law enforcement officers.
The Chron also checked in with John Whitmire for his reaction:
Senate Criminal Justice Committee Chairman John Whitmire said he would be calling DPS to find out why the Paris shooting was not on the list, but also chalked it up to the newness of the law.

"They want to comply," he said. "If there's missing information, it'll get corrected real quick."
Whitmire also said legislators might revisit the legislation if problems about reporting shootings persist.

"There's not piece of legislation that can't be improved," he said. "This is a pretty bold concept. We'll monitor it, and if we need to put some teeth in it, or greater enforcement [mechanisms], we will."
It's gratifying to see others recognize the value of this important work. So congratulations, Amanda! Great job, I'm proud of you.

Perhaps predictably, DPS and McKinney posted their missing reports soon after the press picked up Ms. Woog's blog post.

To be clear, despite the reference in the Chronicle story, the Attorney General doesn't exactly have a "database," at least not yet. They just post scanned pdfs online. Amanda Woog, though, compiled the information into a spreadsheet and cross-referenced it to the national newspaper databases and the AG's death-in-custody database, adding significant value to the minimalist state reporting. Check out a Grits podcast interviewing Ms. Woog about this work and the strengths and limitations of Texas' new reporting regimen.

Bottom line: As soon as Texas required police shootings to be reported, it turned out there were significantly more than we knew about. Ms. Woog's work on her new Database of Officer Involved Shooting Incidents  is the only reason we know about these discrepancies.

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