The Counted: how the Guardian is counting every person killed by US police — with the internet’s help
What is The Counted?
The Counted is a project by the Guardian — and our readers — working to count the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015, to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.
The database combines Guardian reporting with verified crowdsourced information to build a more comprehensive record of such fatalities.
We have created the most detailed map of police killings ever published and will be updating the interactive experience as we learn more.
On the day of launch, June 1 2015, the Guardian had recorded 464 fatalities since January 1 2015. Black Americans who were killed were more than twice as likely to be unarmed as white people.
The Counted is the most thorough public accounting for deadly use of force in the US, but it will operate as an imperfect work in progress — and will be logged by Guardian reporters and interactive journalists as frequently and as promptly as possible.
But we need your help.
Contributions of any information that may improve the quality of our data will be greatly welcomed as we work from a dearth of available information toward better accountability. Please contact us to pass on tips, links and multimedia as well as new information on existing cases already recorded.
You can download the data by clicking here. Let us know how you use it by tweeting @thecounted or emailing email@example.com
Why is this necessary?
The US government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement. This lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
Before stepping down as US attorney general earlier this year, Eric Holder described the prevailing situation on data collection as “unacceptable”.
The Guardian agrees with those analysts, campaign groups, activists and authorities who argue that such accounting is a prerequisite for an informed public discussion about the use of force by police.
How does the US government count killings by police now?
The FBI runs a voluntary program through which law enforcement agencies may or may not choose to submit their annual count of “justifiable homicides”, which it defines as “the killing of a felon in the line of duty”.
This system is arguably less valuable than having no system at all: fluctuations in the number of agencies choosing to report figures, plus faulty reporting by agencies that do report, have resulted in partially informed news coverage pointing misleadingly to trends that may or may not exist.
Between 2005 and 2012 just 1,100 police departments — a fraction of America’s 18,000 police agencies — reported a “justifiable homicide” to the FBI.
The FBI system counted 461 justifiable homicides by law enforcement in 2013, the latest year for which data is available. Crowdsourced counts found almost 300 additional fatalities during that year.
How does the Guardian count police fatalities?
So far, we count with traditional reporting on police reports and witness statements, by monitoring regional news outlets, research groups and open-source reporting projects such as the websites Fatal Encounters and Killed by Police.
But our intention is to progress to a verified crowdsourced system.
We want you to inform us as soon as possible if you witness a killing by law enforcement officers or learn of one that has taken place. We want to hear from you if you have further information about a case already included in The Counted — or one we have not yet recorded. If you find an error or can clarify a point, please let us know.
How can you join the community?
You can talk to us in several ways. We want to hear from you.
• Use the “Send us a tip” form to tell us what you know: text and links are welcome, along with video footage, photographs or any other supporting documentation.
• Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
• Contact us confidentially using our public PGP key
• Send us your files anonymously via our SecureDrop system
• Join our new Facebook community
• Tweet us: @thecounted
The Guardian has started a special Facebook community for The Counted, where you can follow the progress of the project. It’s designed to be an open space where people who have information that may help inform our reporting can share it with Guardian journalists.
We will be using The Counted on Facebook to share details from our own reporting and from other news outlets on police killings, to discuss the issues involved and to contact people involved with or connected to incidents.
What is included in The Counted?
Any deaths arising directly from encounters with law enforcement. This will inevitably include, but will likely not be limited to, people who were shot, tasered and struck by police vehicles as well those who died in police custody.
What is not included in The Counted?
Self-inflicted deaths during encounters with law enforcement. For instance, a person who died by crashing his or her vehicle into an oncoming car while fleeing from police at high speed is not regarded by the Guardian’s database to have been killed by law enforcement.
The database does not include suicides or self-inflicted deaths including drug overdoses in police custody or detention facilities. Other crowdsourced counts do include some such deaths.
At present, the Guardian is collecting data on those killed by police specifically in 2015.
How does the Guardian define ‘armed’ and ‘unarmed’?
This information is difficult to verify because often the only information available comes directly from law enforcement officials. In some cases, friends and relatives of people killed will dispute this official account. For The Counted, we use the term “armed” to express the nature of the threat perceived by law enforcement. This means, for example, that “vehicle” will appear under the category of “armed” if officers said the person was trying to use it as a weapon.
Similarly, a person who is found to have had a weapon in his or her possession that he or she did not attempt to use, or which is discovered only after that person has been killed, would be categorised here as unarmed. Freddie Gray, who was found to have a knife in his pocket after being arrested by police in Baltimore in April, would be one such example.
In cases where multiple witnesses offered a credible alternative story to the official account of whether a person was armed, we have labelled the case “disputed” pending the conclusions of investigations.
The category “Other” contains any item other than a firearm, knife or vehicle which police have described as a threat. This includes “non-powder” projectile weapons such as BB guns and airsoft rifles, as well as machetes, swords and blunt instruments.
How has the Guardian determined the race/ethnicity of people killed?
In order to provide a resource that can help contribute to ongoing national conversations about race and policing, the Guardian has made every effort to find and express a race/ethnicity for all the individuals represented in the database.
This information has been obtained from all available sources including police and coroners’ reports, voter registration data, witness testimony, court records and photographs. These will occasionally prove inaccurate. If you know of more accurate information, please contact us as soon possible.
Additional reporting: Tom McCarthy
Pictures: Sarah Gilbert
Copy editing: Maraithe Thomas