Police shootings from around the country have often topped the news for the past year, but details about how much they happen, and who these shootings affect most, have been sparse. The Texas Tribune spent nearly a year putting together a digital project exploring the number of shootings they could independently confirm have happened between 2010 and 2015.
"Unholstered: When Texas Police Pull the Trigger" looks at officer-involved shootings in 36 of the state’s major Texas cities with over 100,000 residents. The project comes complete with data visualizations and six in-depth articles that dig into the data’s implications.
Reporter Alexa Ura worked on the project. She says the idea was to create a factual underpinning to today’s conversations surrounding police shootings.
“Our idea was that we'd set out to provide some context for those discussions,” Ura says, “and [we] ended up providing this data set that really doesn't exist anywhere else.”
The Tribune requested open records from cities that included Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Brownsville and El Paso. The 36 cities make up about half of the state’s population. Ura says some of the cities made records readily available – others did not.
“Some departments had no way of tracking officer-involved shootings,” Ura says. “They needed some sort of identifier – like a case number, a date – and so it really varied across the state. There were some departments that tried to withhold some of this information.”
But Ura says the records aren’t comprehensive.
"We were able to obtain more than 600 records about these police shootings,” she says. “We know that there are shootings out there that departments either were unavailable to provide the data and or had no way of tracing this information so we were sort of at the mercy their record-keeping.”
The data shows that a disproportionate number of the shootings involved black people - 41 percent of the total confirmed shootings. Black people make up only 14 percent of the population of the 36 cities surveyed.
"There's clearly a disconnect, or some could say an overrepresentation, of blacks being shot at by police,” Ura says.
It was harder to identify Hispanic individuals because not all police departments distinguish between race and identity, and many Hispanics were misidentified as white.
One of the in-depth stories accompanying the dataset digs into unarmed shootings – 17 percent of the total confirmed shootings. Ura says the public tends to focus on those types of shootings.
“It’s fairly interesting to see how they varied," she says. “There were instances in which an individual was, say, trying to choke an officer, or an officer said the person was lunging at them. And there were other times when an officer thought the person was armed but it turned out the individual wasn't.”
Overall the Tribune was able to confirm at least 656 incidents of police shootings:
– 247 shootings were fatal
– 239 were non-fatal but caused some sort of injury
– 152 were shoot-and-misses, where the officer did not hit the individual
– In some cases the details were unclear
On Friday, Texas Standard will look at the cases of officer-involved shootings since a new state law took effect. As of last September, police departments are required to tell the attorney general every time a police shooting results in an injury or death.
Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.