The nation’s approximately 900,000 federal, state and local law enforcement officers have each taken a sworn oath to protect and serve those in the communities they work in. Law enforcement officers, whether a police officer, a deputy sheriff, a special agent or in another sworn capacity, is expected through oath, policy and procedure, and the law, to respect, honor and protect the sanctity of human life, dignity and the civil rights of all people. The Police Foundation suggests that context released along with Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) is instrumental when releasing data regarding the use of deadly force, a rare occurrence statistically.
Although crime rates nationally have fallen to some of the lowest levels recorded, many cities and metropolitan areas continue to experience spikes in certain crimes, such as homicide, aggravated assaults and shootings, robberies and burglaries. Law enforcement agencies confronting street level violence have answered the calls from the community for increased visibility of law enforcement. Agencies have done this with attention to the hot spots for crime, in light of the fact that as much as 50% of crime in an area comes from less than 5% of places. While placing officers in high crime areas during peak periods of violence, we can hope to see violence reduced, but with this deployment strategy, it is important to recognize that there is increased risk and danger for those on patrol.
As an example, the following data from the Philadelphia Police Department (www.phillypolice.com) shows what officers in Philadelphia face every day to keep Philadelphia safe.
The first table below offers a statistical look at crime, assaults against police officers, and police involved shootings starting in 2007. The second table defines the terms used in the first table.
These maps show the areas of violent crime. They help illustrate the level of violence in the areas where officers are on patrol. Officer involved shootings do not occur in a vacuum; they occur in neighborhoods where pockets of violence exist.
An example is provided here, using the Dallas Police Department’s open data on officer-involved shootings and violent crime incidents. From this map, we can see that the blue symbols representing officer involved shootings directly correlate with the violent crime heat map, indicating that these events are occurring in high crime areas. Note: All of the data used in the map below is available in this Portal and in the City of Dallas Open Data Portal (https://www.dallasopendata.com/).
According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), “An estimated 1 in 8 U.S. residents age 16 or older, or 31.4 million persons, requested assistance from police at least once, most commonly to report a crime, suspicious activity, or neighborhood disturbance. About 93% of persons who requested police assistance thought the officers acted properly, 86% felt the police were helpful, and 85% were satisfied with the police response. About 93% of persons who requested police assistance reported that they were just as likely or more likely to contact the police again for a similar problem.”1
The use of deadly force is considered a major critical incident and many departments focus on use of force both in terms of training and policy. Many law enforcement agencies also develop extensive protocols for responding to and investigating officer involved shootings, both from an internal accountability point of view, as well as from a criminal investigative perspective.
Providing open data makes a statement about the acceptance of accountability on the part of the agency and its willingness to be transparent. Transparency, acceptance of accountability, and participatory decision making are important concepts for legitimacy, which can enhance law enforcement’s ability to be effective in community engagement and crime reduction. In addition, leveraging data in the police-community dialogue may improve the nature and outcome of those conversations. 2
Several law enforcement agencies have taken significant proactive steps to demonstrate transparency and to explain their agency’s process for responding to an officer involved shooting. The Philadelphia Police Department, for example, has made this information available on its website since 2013, stating “We post this information to make transparent the police department’s process when an officer involved shooting occurs. We believe that your trust and confidence in the Philadelphia Police Department will increase as you understand what our officers’ encounter, how we prepare them for these encounters, and how we hold them accountable for their actions. We are continuously reviewing and improving our practices, especially those that are as important as the use of deadly force.” (see https://www.phillypolice.com/ois/)
2 Police Foundation: 5 Things you need to know about Open Data in Policing.