Thursday, March 12, 2015

Lethal Acts of Force in 2014 - 3. Who Committed Lethal Acts of Force in 2014

(Part 1 here)

(Part 2 here)


The police officers who committed homicides in 2014 mostly came from city police forces.

The numbers add up to a sum greater than the 1,000 who were killed in 2014 because multiple officers from different agencies were responsible for the shooting deaths of several decedents. 

The Bureau of Justice Statistics analysis of arrest related deaths between 2003 to 2009 found that 73.2% of police homicides came from city police, while 19.7% came from sheriff’s offices and 5.9% from state police or highway patrol.[1] I believe that the reason more homicides in this analysis of 2014 data came from county and state law enforcement agencies was that these are the types of rural agencies less likely to report to the BJS or the FBI.  Patrick Ball, executive director of the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, pointed out to Dara Lind of Vox that rural agencies are less likely to be sophisticated users of the FBI’s data system, and that these agencies are more likely to commit homicides of white people.[2] 

This is an assertion borne out by the data from 2014. While 71% of black people killed by police acts of force in 2014 were killed by city or township police departments, only 55% of white people were killed by city or township police departments.  43% of white people killed by police acts of force in 2014 were killed by county sheriff’s deputies or state police, while the rate was only 25% for black people. 

The jurisdictional profile for Hispanic or Latino people killed by police was more similar to black people than to white people, but with a slight increase in the number killed by county and federal police officers. The federal numbers for Hispanic people killed by police were elevated because of a few killings committed by the US Border Patrol.  The US Border Patrol committed five known lethal acts of force in 2014 (four by gunshot, one by taser), all against Latinos.  


While it was quite easy to determine the agency responsible for the deaths of the 1,000 people killed by police in 2014, it was much trickier to determine identifying characteristics of the officers involved in the deaths.  The initial news report about the incident almost never identified the specific officers involved in the incident, and I was only able to find even the most basic information about the officer involved in the incident in 584 of the 1,000 incidents (59%).

Of the 584 incidents I did have some information about, 96% of the officers involved were male, and only 4% were female.

With 4% of officers involved in police killings being female, and 5% of people killed by police being female, there was only a 2-in-1,000 chance that a female officer would have killed a female decedent in 2014.  (Actually the chance is greater than this due to the fact that multiple officers can be responsible for one person’s death). 

I did find exactly two incidents of a woman killing a woman in the line of duty. The first was on June 7 near Baltimore, when Maryland Transit Administration Officer Tracey Turpin shot a mentally ill homeless woman while engaged in a physical struggle with her. The decedent in that incident, Angela Randolph, had been acting belligerent towards transit riders waiting at the Cromwell light rail station south of Baltimore.[3] The second was on August 14 in San Jose when veteran police officer Wakana Okuma shot and killed Diana Showman. Okuma was responding to a call placed by Showman, who had threatened to shoot members of her family if police didn’t come. Showman had painted a cordless drill to look like an Uzi and was holding it like a pistol, trying to draw officers into shooting her.[4]  Both of these women were unarmed.

Years on force

I had data about 451 officers regarding the number of years as a member of their law enforcement agency. Besides gender and name, this was the third most common statistic that was released in media reports.  Sometimes the media reported the age of the officer or the number of years that the officer had been a police officer with any department, but I only kept track of the number of years on the force that was responsible for the lethal act of force.

The average officer was a 9.8-year veteran.  The median officer was only a 7 year veteran, and the most frequently occurring officer in terms of years on force had been with his or her police department for 6 years.

Buzzfeed news reporter Mary Ann Georgantopoulos found that officer involved shootings are more likely to be committed by younger officers than by older veterans.[5]  My research serves as evidence to back this claim up, since younger officers have had fewer years on the force.  But it is also a fact that younger officers are more likely to be out in the streets than older officers.  What Georgantopoulos wasn’t able to say was whether or not young officers on patrol kill people at a higher rate than older officers on patrol.  Without data on the ages of officers and the specific duties assigned to these officers, I can’t answer this question either.      


I did not collect data on the race of the officer involved in the shooting.  For one thing, I had an officer’s name in only 532 of the 1000 lethal act of force incidents. And the race of the officer was hardly ever mentioned by law enforcement agencies or media reports of the incident.  Standard practice for jurisdictions that choose to identify officers is to release the name, usually the number of years on the force, and sometimes the age of the officer involved as well. But there aren’t any law enforcement agencies in the U.S. that regularly release the race of the officer involved at the time of the shooting.  There were examples though of police spokesmen choosing to release the name of the officer, particularly in the case of a black officer shooting a black decedent.  This behavior unfortunately produces a non-random sampling. Ultimately I decided against recording any data about the race of the officer as analysis of such data would at best be incomplete and at worst be misleading.  

I found a few local media outlets that did a story on all officer involved shootings within a given time frame, sometimes focusing on the decedent’s race, but few focused on the officer’s race.  One that did was from South Carolina.  Columbia’s newspaper The State examined data from investigations conducted by the State Law Enforcement Division looking at all officer involved shootings in 2014. They found that white officers were responsible for 35 of the 43 incidents in South Carolina in 2014, while black officers were responsible for only 7 incidents (16%), even though black officers made up 22% of the state’s law enforcement officers. [6] 

(Part 4: What is a "lethal act of force" anyways?)

[1] Burch, Andrea M. “Arrest-Related Deaths, 2003-2009 – Statistical Tables”. Bureau of Justice Statistics, November 17, 2011.

[2] Lind, Dara. “What We Know About Who Police Kill in America”. Vox, August 21, 2014.

[3] Bottalico, Brandi. “Witness: Shooting Victim at Light Rail Was Belligerent, Attacked Officer”. Capital Gazette, June 11, 2014.,0,5463588.story

[4] Lee, Henry K. “Teen Shot by San Jose Cop While Holding Drill ID’d”. SFGate, August 18, 2014.

[5] Georgantopoulos, Mary Ann. “Age of Police Officers Who Kill People a Rarely Discussed Factor”. BuzzFeed, March 11, 2015.

[6] LeBlanc, Clif. “Exclusive: SC Police Shot at 43 Suspects in 2014, Killing 18 of Them”. The State, January 31, 2015.

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