What New Statewide Data About Police Shootings Shows

“Advocates will say we need more information and the more the better. I think that having this qualitative data … will help complete the picture.”

By Alain Stephens & Rhonda FanningSeptember 2, 2016 12:57 pm|

Tracking police shootings is difficult because of a lack of data. We touched on this earlier this week, with the release of a dataset on police shootings from the Texas Tribune.

But in Texas, the data problem is, in part, getting better. The Texas Legislature passed a law last session that requires police agencies to report every officer-involved shooting to the attorney general.

When an officer shoots someone, either causing an injury or a fatality, they are required under this new law to file a one-page report that contains basic demographics and circumstances of the incident. The law also requires that when an officer is shot, the agency files a similar full report.

Eva Ruth Moravec is a freelance journalist whose latest project, “Point of Impact,” looks at these state-mandated reports. She says that the one year of released data shows that 158 people were shot by cops in the past 12 months, but that number could go up because some data is incomplete.

“Of those 158, 70 were killed and 88 people were injured,” Moravec says. “Among the total, 20 percent were unarmed. So that’s the chunk that I’ve chosen to focus on – is to try to find out why those people who were unarmed are getting shot.”

Moravec says demographic trends are a bit tentative because agencies have different ways of preparing race and ethnicity data.

“But as far as African-Americans, I can say that it looks like they are overrepresented, as they comprise 28 percent of the people who were shot by the police – while representing about 12 and a half percent of the state’s population,” she says.

Moravec is digging deep into 19 of the cases of people who were unarmed when they were shot by police.

“I will be doing in-depth narratives on these cases to try to investigate them as thoroughly as I can,” Moravec says. “It’s been a little while since some of them took place. I’m hoping that I can really get more information than was initially reported in breaking news reports.”

So far Moravec says she has had a few challenges working on the project.

“Three agencies have fought my requests for a police policy on use of force,” she says. “And that’s actually something that the attorney general has ruled can be withheld if those tactics would give potential criminals an upper hand.”

Cases that involve juveniles are also quite shielded, Moravec says, and getting law enforcement to talk can be hard. But in general, she thinks transparency surrounding police shootings is moving in the right direction.

“The whole point of having these numbers is being able to compare them,” Moravec says. “Having one year of data – it’s interesting, but we’ll know much more once we have two years or five years to actually compare. … Advocates will say we need more information and the more the better. I think that having this qualitative data – which I’m trying to collect through these stories – will help complete the picture.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.