Police shootings have been on a front burner all year, from the ugly quick draw in Cleveland that led to the death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice to the shots fired that took the life recently of Corey Jones in Palm Beach Gardens. Expect them to be on the front burner moving forward too. But a new great piece of journalism from the Daytona Beach News-Journal presents some hard facts about the use of police force in the Sunshine State.
Most troublingly: Police in Florida shoot someone on average once in every three days.
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The "Shots Fired" report combs through the data from 2013 and 2014, from police reports to published accounts. This is a bearish amount of work, so the paper should be given props for devoting its resources to the project. In total, Florida law enforcement shot 249 people. Of those shootings,162 were fatal. But as the paper points out, these numbers are the minimum. Law enforcement agencies can withhold reports on open investigations.
The entire project is worth diving into, but here are some of the salient highlights coming out of the reporting:
- The News-Journal staff found a serious racial disparity in the numbers. African-American males make up 7.7 percent of the Florida population. Among the individuals felled by police use of force, they make up 40 percent.
- Twenty-six percent of the shootings involved people with drug or mental health problems.
- Fifteen percent of the shootings involved an unarmed suspect.
- Miami-Dade Police led the pack in terms of police shootings — by a lot. In the two years studied, the department notched 28 shootings. The Palm Beach Sheriff's Office was involved in 15 shootings. The Broward Sheriff's Office was responsible for nine.
- 1989 was the last year a police officer was successfully prosecuted in Florida for a bad shooting. That verdict was later overturned by an appeals court.
Again, it's important to point out that there are instances when an officer has little option but to use force. But the overall picture presented here by the report is a reason to reflect. One every three days. Really? If anything, the discussion about police use of force — which hit a new high pitch locally after the Corey Jones shooting — is forcing more Americans to consider these kinds of questions.