Diving in to the StreetCred PKIC Data

A peer-reviewed, open database that tracks the killing by US police of unarmed civilians.

Nick Selby

Today marks the launch of a new database designed to provide, in as transparent and accurate terms as possible, contextually relevant facts on deadly force incidents in which American police acting in an official capacity kill unarmed civilians. Its goal is to enable serious researchers, reporters, legislators, and agency administrators to understand issues of improper police use of deadly force. (Get the data here).

The StreetCred® Police Killings in Context (PKIC) database is a peer-reviewed, open-standard database that includes incidents in which an unarmed civilian was killed by any cause except vehicle accidents, that occurred within the United States, during an encounter with American police who were acting (whether on-, or off-duty) in an official capacity, from the time of first contact through booking.

Researchers, journalists, activists, and others may use PKIC data to ask questions, such as, “Of all unjustified or potentially unjustified killings by police, what were the commonalities?” and, “Do police really target black people more than white people in police uses of deadly force?” and, “Are our police treating our communities fairly?” These are incredibly important questions that deserve answers.

The goal is to give stakeholders the tools they need to better understand whether law enforcement is treating fairly and justly those it is sworn to protect. The goal is not to stanch criticism or suppress controversy, it is to produce clean, clear and actionable data that both sides can use to debate intelligently and meaningfully the way forward.

The dataset has been released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license. StreetCred PKIC is itself a derivative work of, and an expansion of a small subset of, the excellent Fatal Encounters database (which maintains a superb Silk visualization site, and which launched a crowd-funded effort to track killings of immigrants who are illegally in the US).

The dataset is hosted by StreetCred Software, Inc., but is non-commercial and peer reviewed by a group you can read about here.

Why Track Killings of the Unarmed?

There have been, according to The Guardian’s The Counted database, 846 people killed by police in the US as I write this; the Washington Post counts 720 people as being shot by police this year. As people who work with law enforcement data every day, we feel that these large numbers are the result of many problems in America — guns, violence, theft, drug-abuse, prostitution, assault, domestic violence are just a few examples of these, but the problem that interests us most is the one we keep hearing about on the news. Are police targeting African-Americans for deadly force?

Are they singling out and committing acts of violence against a specific group or groups? Are police abusing their power?

To find the answer, as analysts, we look to make the data more manageable and understandable by reducing the scope of the dataset to that most likely to be most relevant to our queries, and then asking questions that are highly specific in order to get answers that will help us propose solutions.

We seek data on the unjustified killing by police. Incidents in which people with weapons threaten the police or other people don’t fall into that category. When someone’s life is threatened, our federal, state and local laws, and common sense prevail: officers, and even civilians for that matter, have the right to use deadly force to stop the use of deadly force against them or any other person.

So if we reduce the scope to only those who were unarmed at the time that they were killed by police, we maximize the group that is most likely to contain unjustified killings. Thus the StreetCred PKIC database limits its scope to those.

The Numbers

There were 125 unarmed people killed by American police in 2015. Of these, 53 (42%) were Black, 45 (36%) were White, and 21 (17%) were Hispanic. There were two Asians or Pacific Islanders, one Native American, and one Middle Eastern person killed, along with three people whose race is not known in open sources.

In the StreetCred PKIC cohort, the median age of unarmed Blacks killed by police was 33; of Whites was 34; and of Hispanics was 28. Unarmed males killed by police outnumbered females by 122 to 3. Of Blacks, 52 were male and 1 was female. Of Whites, 44 were male, and 1 was female. Of Hispanics, 20 were male and one was female. Four per-cent of unarmed people killed by police in 2015 weighed in excess of 250 lbs — 2% over 300 lbs. This becomes important in future articles.

Police Demographics
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, of the 477,000 full-time and 26,790 part-time police officers nationwide in 2013, about 58,000 were Black (11.51%), and the same number were female. About 55,000 Hispanic officers (10.9%) were employed by local police departments in 2013.

Of the StreetCred PKIC’s record of 126 unarmed people killed by police as of 10 September 2015, we do not, in 109 cases, or 87%, know the race of the officer involved. In the few cases in which we have data (and more than one officer is involved in many of these), 17% of all officers involved in shootings of unarmed civilians were Black; all officers shooting unarmed White people were White, 10 of 13 known officers who shot unarmed Black people were white and three were Black; and the officer identified in the case of the shooting death of an unarmed Hispanic was White (our methodology explains how we derive officer(s) race, when we state it and when we do not).

Of the 96 officers we know of involved in killing of unarmed civilians (and more than one officer is involved in many of these), 11 (11%) were female. (NB: These BJS nationwide police demographic figures do not reference the nation’s approximately 29,000 reserve or auxiliary local police officers, of whom one shot to death an unarmed civilian in 2015.)

There were incidents in 38 states. California had the most incidents, 24, or 19% of all cases. The top 20%, eight states — CA, FL, TX, OK, MD, NY, OH, and GA — represent 59% of all cases. The top four states — CA, FL, TX, and OK — represent 41.3% of all cases. 13 states (26% of all states), have only a single case year-to-date, or no cases at all. 13 states have two incidents each, and 13 states have three or more.

Seven per-cent of all incidents occurred in Greater Los Angeles: The Los Angeles Police Department, Long Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had three incidents each, meaning that nine (7%) of 125 unarmed people killed in the United States in first eight months of 2015 were killed by police in the greater Los Angeles area. The NYPD had three (2.4%) incidents. The DeKalb County (GA) and Oklahoma City Police Departments had two incidents (1.6%) each.

This week…

We will be publishing findings from the PKIC data. Remember, you don’t need to take our word for it — we eagerly encourage you to download the data yourself and examine and analyze it. There are mechanisms to dispute data, make corrections, or submit new records for consideration…They are all online at the StreetCred PKIC homepage.

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