Texas Law Enforcement Agencies Now Publishing Police-Involved-Shooting Data Online

from the the-era-of-forced-transparency-begins! dept

The FBI’s call for more data on officer-involved-shootings is welcome, if belated and somewhat half-hearted. For years, the federal government has been “collecting” this data via purely voluntary contributions by law enforcement agencies around the country. This is why the federal numbers on citizens killed by police officers is usually half that of any data collection put together by private parties.

A reader identifying himself only as “James” sends in the news that the state of Texas is taking a more “proactive” approach to the dissemination of officer-involved-shootings, thanks to a new law which went into effect on September 1st. The documentation on shootings is housed at the state Attorney General’s website and contains single-page reporting forms uploaded by involved departments that include data on the victims as well as the circumstances surrounding the shootings.

Of more use, however, is the compilation of the data into a single spreadsheet — again, an effort made by a private individual with no current ties to law enforcement.

[T]hat information has been made available via a new online spreadsheet compiled by Amanda Woog, a super-smart young attorney who clerked for Judge Cheryl Johnson at the Court of Criminal Appeals before working as a policy analyst for the Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, where Grits first met her this spring. This fall, she took a post as a postdoctoral fellow at the UT-Austin Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis; this database represents her first project in that new role.

Woog has thoughtfully put these two data points right next to each other:

Those concerned about the “Ferguson Effect” or the “War on Cops” will be happy to know that the “Injury or Death of PO [Police Officer]” tab in Woog’s spreadsheet is still empty, nearly 60 days from the enactment of the reporting requirements.

This new information joins the other dataset tracking deaths at the hands of law enforcement — custodial deaths. This data has been collected since 2005 and published for public inspection since 2011. (Again, as the result of legislation, not that famous Texas transparency we’ve never actually heard of…)

Obviously, given the right amount of direction and incentives (i.e., not breaking state law), law enforcement entities can produce information on officer-involved-shootings in a timely manner. But the national effort has, so far, been strictly voluntary and overseen by a string of Attorneys General who seemingly could not have cared less about their obligations to the public, much less Congressional mandates.

But, even as we see efforts being made as the result of legislation, the execution still leaves a lot to be desired. That’s where the public comes in. Law enforcement agencies may be dumping raw data, but we still need people like Amanda Woog to compile the information in an easily-readable format that doesn’t require opening dozens of individual PDFs. This sort of unofficial partnership will be what’s needed to make sense of the raw data turned over by law enforcement agencies. But the good news is, the data is finally starting to arrive.

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Comments on “Texas Law Enforcement Agencies Now Publishing Police-Involved-Shooting Data Online”

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Anonymous Coward says:

"carried, exibited, or used a deadly weapon"

There’s such a huge interpretive loophole in the “carried, exibited, or used a deadly weapon” category as to make it almost meaningless.

Do children who throw stones use a deadly weapon?
Do drunks holding a beer bottle carry a deadly weapon?
Is a car with poor brakes considered a deadly weapon?
Is a person’s hand that gets too close to a cop’s gun considered a deadly weapon?
Are dogs considered deadly weapons?

And how about that common police practice of sending a hail of bullets into some mentally ill (and possibly deaf) person walking slowly –or even standing still– holding a knife, scissors, boxcutter?

Because as we all know, any time a cop kills someone, it will always be in self defense; they will find a way make it so.

There is really only one always justified reason for a cop shooting someone, and that is to return fire against an armed combatant –especially when when failing to do so would result in the deaths of other people.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m heartened that they are at least providing data. However, I don’t believe it will have an effect on police behavior. If you saw the South Carolina Police Chief’s press conference. The resource officer was not fired for assaulting a16 year old but for his method of assault. That alone is telling that they don’t see anything wrong with an officer roughing up a student for noncompliance.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

All things considered, I think how and why they fired the SC cop was the best and safest way to get a little justice. If they’d fired him immediately (instead of suspending him first) or used a reason for termination that wasn’t explicitly covered in the department’s guidelines, it’d be a lot easier for the jackass cop to sue the city and get rich off of the consequences of his own abusive behavior.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: "carried, exibited, or used a deadly weapon"

Some police view being stared at, as assaulting them with their eyes. Naturally their response is to beat the hell out of said person if they don’t just riddle them with bullets.

The citizens currently cannot win if an unbalanced individual becomes a cop

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "carried, exibited, or used a deadly weapon"

Filming an officer w/ a phone could be quite deadly:

While recording, you slip on a banana peel, falling to the ground and sending your phone flying as you free your hands to catch yourself. After someone yells ‘heads up,’ an officer looks to the sky, mouth agape. Blinded by the sun, he fails to see the phone plummeting to earth, and it falls straight into his mouth and lodges in his throat.

Luckily, another officer uses the Heimlich Maneuver to save his colleague. Just to be safe, he’s sent to the hospital to be checked out and make sure he’s OK. It being confirmed that he’s just fine he leaves the hospital, and while hailing a cab is struck and killed by a glob of frozen pee that’s fallen from an airplane.

Filming officers threatens their lives in myriad ways.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: "carried, exibited, or used a deadly weapon"

There is really only one always justified reason for a cop shooting someone, and that is to return fire against an armed combatant

So if they don’t have a gun, but they do have a knife, a big rock, a dog, a car headed straight at somebody, etc, that’s fundamentally different?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "carried, exibited, or used a deadly weapon"

When cops jump out in front of a “fleeing” car and start firing at the driver (in self-defense, of course) do they really think that the car will apply brakes on its own or steer around them once the driver is dead? And once a fleeing car crashes, is it OK for cops to fire hundreds of bullets into the car when the occupants are unarmed? This incident happened in Miami last year:

CBS4 News has learned a total of 23 officers fired a total of at least 377 rounds.

Bullets were sprayed everywhere. They hit the Volvo, other cars in the lot, fence posts and neighboring businesses. They blasted holes in a townhouse where a 12-year-old dove to the ground for cover and a four month old slept in his crib.


But what police didn’t realize before they started shooting at the Volvo is there was a second man in the car – Corsini Valdes – who had committed no crime. And in fact, as CBS4 News was the first to report, both men inside the Volvo were unarmed at the time police caught up with them. All of the gunfire came from police.

This example of a lethal police shooting also highlights one of the shortcomings of Texas statistics reporting — the number of bullets fired by the police is not published. It’s even possible that incidents of police firing 377 bullets at an unarmed suspect is not so unusual. But if not for the internet, we might never have a clue, since no official statistics are kept on police shooting sprees.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: "carried, exibited, or used a deadly weapon"

The Texas laws concerning use of deadly force do not specifically call out or limit the type of weapon(s) involved. Instead, the law states that deadly force is any force reasonably believed to likely cause serious bodily injury, including death, of the person being attacked. It does not matter whether that force involves a gun, knife, rock, car, fist, etc. That is, it is the result that counts, not the means.

The law also states that deadly force may be used to counter deadly force. If someone is applying deadly force against you or an innocent third party, deadly force may be used to stop that threat. This includes an imminent threat of the use of deadly force, e.g., someone points a gun at you, if you believe they may really use it.

This is where it gets a bit tricky, and where IMHO some of these police shooting violate the law. Note the phrase above: “stop the threat.” The deadly force laws (in Texas) do not allow you to kill someone who is engaged in deadly force against you. The law allows you to use deadly force in response, which may result in the death of the attacker. It also means your use of deadly force is only allowed while the threat continues to exist. Assume someone points a gun at you and says “I’m going to kill you.” A reasonable person could take this as an imminent threat, draw their own gun, and shoot the attacker first (to be validated by a jury). Now assume the wounded, but not dead, attacker drops the gun. Can you legally shoot him again? NO! The threat has ended. If you shoot again, you could likely be charged with assault or murder. It seems this distinction isn’t as often applied to police officers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: "carried, exibited, or used a deadly weapon"

The laws on the use of deadly force in Texas are extremely loose. Texas might be the only state in the country that [still] allows a property owner to chase down and kill a suspected thief or vandal — not in self-defense, but to prevent him from getting away. Yes, the law really allows that! “Frontier Justice” just like in the Wild West days.

Sec. 9.42. DEADLY FORCE TO PROTECT PROPERTY. A person is justified in using deadly force against another to protect land or tangible, movable property:

(1) if he would be justified in using force against the other under Section 9.41; and

(2) when and to the degree he reasonably believes the deadly force is immediately necessary:

(A) to prevent the other’s imminent commission of arson, burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, theft during the nighttime, or criminal mischief during the nighttime; or

(B) to prevent the other who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property;

source: http://www.statutes.legis.state.tx.us/SOTWDocs/PE/htm/PE.9.htm

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "carried, exibited, or used a deadly weapon"

Yes, but…

The parent post was talking specifically about use of deadly force to counter deadly force, and how police seem to be held to different standards.

You also need to note the two phrases in the law cited: “reasonably believes” and “immediately necessary.” Since those terms are not explicitly defined in the law, their meaning is governed by case law and what a jury decides was reasonable and necessary. It is not nearly the blanket “frontier justice” you suggest and anyone using deadly force in the way you suggest is taking a huge legal risk.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 "carried, exibited, or used a deadly weapon"

Any trial is a crapshoot, but Texas juries have concluded numerous times over the years that killing a fleeing thief is within the law. Needless to say, being a repo-man can be a very dangerous occupation in Texas.

On Christmas Eve in 2009, Ezekiel Gilbert paid an escort he found on Craigslist $150 for what he thought would be sex. Instead, according to the San Antonio Express-News, 23-year-old Lenora Frago left his apartment after about 20 minutes without consummating the act. Gilbert, now 30, followed her to a car with a gun and shot her in the neck through the passenger-side window. Frago became paralyzed, and died about seven months later. Gilbert admitted to shooting her but contended that he did not intend to kill.

Gilbert was tried for murder. Last Wednesday, a Texas jury ruled that his actions were legal. That’s because Texas penal code contains an unusual provision that grants citizens the right to use deadly force to prevent someone “who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property.”


Jim Douglass has been screamed at, spat on, punched, kicked, even stabbed in the shoulder. These things happen to a repo man. But nothing, Mr. Douglass says, justifies what happened to his friend and colleague, Tommy Deen Morris. He was shot to death.

The 54-year-old Mr. Morris, a licensed automobile repossessor, was shot through the neck and both lungs at 3:30 A.M. on Feb. 25, as he was hooking his tow truck to a Ford truck in an unincorporated section of Harris County here. The man who killed him with a .30-30 telescopic rifle, Jerry Casey Jr., was behind on his payments.

But the police have declined to arrest Mr. Casey, citing a frontier-era law that gives Texans considerable leeway — at night only, not in daylight — to kill thieves and intruders.


Anonymous Coward says:

The Counted

People killed by police in the US

About the project
What is The Counted?

The Counted is a project by the Guardian – and you – 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 will combine Guardian reporting with verified crowdsourced information to build a more comprehensive record of such fatalities. 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 updated by Guardian reporters and interactive journalists as frequently and as promptly as possible.


As of 28Oct2015 The Counted has reported 948 people killed by US police this year.

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