Saturday, June 13, 2020

GateHouse: Hope for reducing officer-involved shootings resulting in death

Matthew T. Mangino
GateHouse Media
June 13, 2020
The police in this country shoot and kill about 1,000 people a year. In the wake of the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the Washington Post began tracking nationwide data on all officer-involved shootings that resulted in death.
Why is the Washington Post tracking officer-involved shootings resulting in death? According to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article, made part of the United States Senate official record, criminal justice experts lamented that there was no reliable national data on how many people are shot by police officers each year.
Although national research groups were keeping data and statistics on topics ranging from how many people were victims of unprovoked shark attacks (53 in 2013) to the number of hogs and pigs living on farms in the U.S. (upward of 64,000,000) - no one was keeping track of officer-involved shootings.
Although officer-involved shootings are relatively rare in comparison with the millions of interactions between the police and the public, last year police shot and killed 1,004 people, 998 in 2018, 987 in 2017, 963 in 2016 and 995 in 2015.
The stability in the annual number of homicides by police can be attributed to a statistical tool known as the probability theory. According to the Post’s database, the probability theory holds that the quantity of rare events in huge populations tends to remain stable absent major societal changes, such as a fundamental shift in police culture or extreme restrictions on gun ownership.
According to the National Institute of Health the annual number of fatal shootings and the demographics of the victims have been consistent over time - 52% were white; 32% were black; and 16% were Hispanic.
More troubling is that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other people approached or stopped by law enforcement, according to a new study released by the Treatment Advocacy Center.
Does that mean it is hopeless and no matter what we do 1,000 people a year are going to die after being shot by police? Not necessarily.
Individuals with untreated severe mental illness are involved in at least one in four and as many as half of all fatal police shootings, according to the Treatment Advocacy Center.
Those laboring with severe mental illness are often confrontational and argumentative. They are unlikely to follow direction and can often react violently to being treated aggressively.
Intensive training for police on mental health issues and broader use of mental health advocates in place of police officers can have an impact.
Policymakers who work to reduce encounters between police and individuals with the most severe psychiatric diseases may have the single most immediate, practical strategy for reducing fatal police shootings in the United States, the study concluded.
There are other examples of changes in training or “use of force protocols” that have saved lives.
In New York City in 1971, there were 314 officer-involved shootings, 93 of which were fatal. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Washington Post “the following year the city passed a law prohibiting officers from shooting into vehicles.”
Within two years the city reduced police shootings to 121, with 41 fatal. By 2015, after a period when crime dropped enormously, the number had fallen to 23 people shot by police with eight killed.
That drop in officer-involved shootings resulting in death is nothing less than astounding. There is hope for change, and it starts with lawmaker’s not necessarily defunding police, but investing in proactive funding of police.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewTMangino.
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