“They Shoot More People Every Year Than We Think.”
Last year in Massachusetts, 12 people were shot and killed by police, making it one of the deadliest years on record. Between 2002 and 2013, 73 people were killed by police gunfire. Prosecutors never filed criminal charges against any police officers who shot people to death in these cases, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the shooting.
These findings were collected by The Bay State Examiner because there are no government programs that accurately track this information.
Limited information is provided upon request, but there is no official state or local government agency the public can turn to in Massachusetts to publish how many people are being shot and killed by police.
The Bay State Examiner was able to obtain reports from the Massachusetts State Police Use of Force Committee in response to public records requests, yet the data they provided reveals that the department is blatantly wrong about their facts. Their claims that no officer used their gun in 2012 directly contradict the report‘s introduction, which states, “Department troopers discharged rounds from their issued firearms in 4 incidents involving motor vehicles. The incidents/reports have yet to be reviewed by the UOF Committee.”
Those incidents still have yet to be reviewed nearly two years later, as subsequent reports fail to mention these shootings.
In 2013, the government’s ineptitude was further revealed in a report that stated police used their firearms four times that year. However, the introduction mentions two incidents that are currently still under investigation, for a total of six shootings. Even this number isn’t accurate, as the media reported that state police used their firearms in at least eight incidents in 2013.
The Use of Force Committee isn’t the only agency that is supposed to be maintaining an accurate record of police shootings. According to a Massachusetts State Police policy document, it is the responsibility of the colonel or superintendent of the state police to notify the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS) whenever a police shooting occurs. However, the EOPSS said in response to a public records request from The Bay State Examiner that it does not maintain any records about police shootings at all.
Some departments outright ignored The Bay State Examiner’s requests for public records, including the Boston Police Department and Springfield Police Department.
Jim Fisher, a law professor and former FBI agent, believes that this inaccurate data collection stems from the increasing tendency of police to use military weapons and tactics.
“The police are too militarized, have too many combat-type weapons, have a warrior mentality instead of a public service mentality,” Fisher said.
“I found out very quickly that the government doesn’t maintain a database on how many citizens the police kill every year and that struck me as really odd because the federal government has statistics on everything. I mean, you could probably find out how many tons of potatoes people over 50 eat every year in Wisconsin.”
“The government doesn’t want us to know how many people the police shoot every year,” Fisher said. “And that’s because they shoot more people every year than we think.”
A viable alternative, according to Fisher, would be to have a private organization keep track of statistics about police shootings.
“One thing you can’t trust are any kind of government statistics,” Fisher said. “They fudge the numbers.”
Indeed, the lack of accurate data is highly suspicious, and it’s not just at the local level. Nationwide, there are two federal government programs that claim they track the number of people killed by police throughout the United States, but neither programs provided accurate, or even comprehensible numbers.
The FBI’s crime statistics program, the Uniform Crime Reports (UCR), is slated to provide estimates of the number of “justifiable homicides” by police officers that occur per year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) also has a program that tracks “arrest-related deaths”, and includes how many deaths were caused by police.
However, police departments are not required to submit their data to these programs, so many choose to opt out, while others report incorrect data. The police in Massachusetts reported to the UCR that only 7 people were killed by police between 2002 and 2008, when in fact the real number was 34.
The problem extends beyond Massachusetts. Journalists have played an integral role in reporting the actual numbers, and this disturbing inaccuracy is occurring all across the country. The Orlando Sentinel and WESH-NewsChannel 2 found that between 1999 and 2002, police agencies in Central Florida only reported about a quarter of fatal police shootings to the UCR program.
In Wisconsin, The Capital Times found in 2013 that the Madison Police Department only reports killings to the FBI for its UCR program, but does not report them to the BJS program. The statistician in charge of tracking this data at BJS, Andrea Burch, said that the Bureau of Justice Statistics is trying to determine if the program has any problems with under-reporting. The journalists mentioned in this story have already proven that they do, and at this stage, providing solutions to this “under-reporting” problem would seem a more plausible course of action.