Famous Police-Shooting Database Has Infamous Shortcomings

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A national online database compiled by the Washington Post is widely considered to be the go-to place for statistics on fatal shootings by police.

But how reliable is it?

Kevin Davis, a prominent use-of-force trainer from Ohio, recently took a probing look at one frequently cited category in the Post s aggregation: officers deadly shootings of unarmed individuals.

The Post claims that 93 unarmed subjects were killed by police in the US in 2015. Davis examined each one, using the same public information available to the Post.

His findings, published by our strategic partner PoliceOne.com, are illuminating.

  • Four individuals the Post lists as having been unarmed were, in fact, armed in the traditional sense. Most often these were reaching for or drawing a weapon when shot and killed, Davis confirmed.
  • Several others were shot accidentally while in close proximity to an armed associate who was actively firing at officers. One woman, for example, was shot when her boyfriend started shooting at officers from their car and the cops returned fire.
  • By Davis count, 10 subjects had some type of contact weapon other than a firearm. These included a hatchet that was thrown at officers, a large metal spoon used against an officer after a mentally ill subject tried to heave him over an apartment balcony, a tree branch, and a police radio with which two officers were savagely beaten.
  • The Post describes 34 shootings as occurring during attacks in progress. Davis found 50, nearly 50% more than the Post stated. These include attempts at disarming officers and attempts to drown officers. Injuries in these cases included broken bones and head injuries, Davis reports.
  • More than a dozen shootings of the unarmed were likely suicides-by-cop, Davis concluded. Often these subjects made drawing motions or pointed something at police that was mistaken to be a gun.
  • In a significant number of cases, a less-lethal form of control was attempted and failed before officers resorted to deadly force.

In summary, Davis charitably writes that the Post has come to some questionable conclusions regarding police shootings of unarmed individuals.

Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, declares flatly that the newspaper is misleading the public dramatically.

Kevin Davis’s report in full can be read on PoliceOne.com. Click here to read it.

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