Putting your own boots on the ground

One disturbing undercurrent of our tracking of the Cops Gone Wild trend – the militarization of police departments and its impact on routine policing – has been the absence of reliable and compatible databases that track the true number of police violence cases, particularly homicides.

Now a handful of concerned individuals have made it their business to maintain an accurate accounting of the number of police-involved homicides occurring in the US – something that has been beyond the capabilities, or willingness, of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Armed with little more than Google and their convictions, they’ve searched through public records and local newspaper accounts to provide a true picture of the lethal violence meted out by law-enforcement officers. Their data convincingly shows that the number of citizen deaths is double that reported in “official” tallies, such as the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report.

– FatalEncounters.org, run by Reno, Nevada newspaperman D. Brian Burghart, has the goal of creating a comprehensive, searchable database of people who die for any reason through fatal police encounters. As Burghart sees it, “In the 21st century, the only reason this information would not be tracked, data-based and available to the public is because somebody somewhere decided Americans shouldn’t know how many people are killed by police and under what circumstances… The information is out there. It’s not censored or hidden, even if it is under-reported…  Somebody just has to collect it.”

– KilledByPolice.net, established in May 2013, maintains a spreadsheet of police officer-involved fatalities with links to local news reports of the event. The site makes it clear that inclusion of a fatality “implies neither wrongdoing nor justification on the part of the person killed or the officer involved. The post merely documents the occurrence of a death.” As of Dec. 17, 2014, the site lists 1054 people killed by police in 2014.

Why is the work of these websites vitally important? As Burghart writes, “I’ve created this page because I believe in a democracy, citizens should be able to figure out how many people are killed by law enforcement, why they were killed, and whether training and policies can be modified to decrease the number of officer-involved deaths.”

The emergence of these types of initiatives also supports the Trends Research Institute’s Selfie Journalism trend line. As part of that trend, we anticipate upstart media operations or watchdog groups will be created to fill news coverage gaps, such as tracking over time police-related homicides, left by established media outlets that no longer have the resources to fully cover their communities. 

Moreover, with news breaking over the weekend on the shooting death of two New York City police officers, tensions between police and citizens are intensifying. An “us” versus “them” mentality is evolving. And this will grow along with racial tensions as Hispanic and African-American household wealth declined some 42 percent since 2007.

As a result, expect more citizen-driven watchdog efforts to emerge like the ones described here. 



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