Category Archives: Gun Issues

Please Excuse Me If I Don’t Panic

ebola isis If It Bleeds It Leads – and I am getting really tired of cable and network news blathering on about The Next Great Scary Bacteria/Virus.   First, let’s get some perspective – there are an estimated 316,148,990 people in the United States. [Census]

Remember the West Nile Virus?  If memory serves, the media served up mosquito pictures on television screens and print versions ad nauseam not so many years ago.  The largest number of cases occurred in 2003, at 9,862. There were a grand total of 39,557 cases of which only 1,668 were fatal, between 1999 and 2013.    [CDC pdf] Do the arithmetic.  Divide 39,557 by 316,148,990 on your handy plastic calculator.  (Ans: 1.2521 e-4)

Remember SARS?  The coronavirus showed up in 2003.  Lord knows how many “travel alerts” there were, and how many were reported as major news stories.  By April 2003 there were 115 suspected SARS cases in the U.S. reported from 29 states, there were no deaths reported.  By the end of the year the World Health Organization reported 8,096 cases globally, leading to 774 deaths. In the United States there were 8 SARS infections documented by laboratory testing and an additional 19 probable cases. [CDC]  Again, play with the arithmetic problem: Divide 115 by 316,148,990. What are the odds someone will contract SARS?

Now it’s Ebola! A virus which is relatively difficult to contract, but whose photograph graces the pages and screens, along with breathless speculation about how control this “ISIS of Viral Evil.”  Thus far we have 1, repeat ONE, case reported in the United States.  One case, one fatality. And that of a man who sought treatment, was turned away from a hospital in Dallas, TX – which has some explaining to do to his family – and so far that’s IT.

Yes, this is a nasty virus. It is also primarily running rampant in west Africa, a region generally ignored by the U.S. media even when uncivil wars are decimating the populations,  but there’s a reason the medical professionals in the U.S. aren’t panicking like, say CNN, for Faux News, or some  “billionaire with bad hair:”

“It’s important for us to remember here in the US that the likelihood of an outbreak due to bringing back two patients with Ebola virus disease is incredibly small, and that conditions here in the US and other developed nations are such that it is unlikely that such an outbreak, even in the unlikely event that it happened, would spread very far, given the differences in medical care, availability of resources, and differences in funeral practices. That’s not to say we shouldn’t be vigilant, but there is really nothing particularly unusual about Ebola virus other than the rapid onset and severity of the disease it causes.” [SciBMed]

Now, breathe.

Meanwhile —  The CDC reports 11,068 firearm homicides, with a death per 100K of 3.6 [CDC]  The last CDC report showed 39,518 suicides, of which 19,990 were completed with firearms; death per 100K at 12.7. [CDC] Now, if a virus had killed 31,058 people in a single year – that would be a story.  However, we can’t consider the epidemic of gun violence as a public health problem because the GOP controlled House of Representatives refuses a meager $10 million for funding gun violence prevention research. The American Medical Association, the American Psychological Association, and the American Academy of Pediatrics begged for the research funding, but Republicans and the NRA said we simply need to “prosecute more people, not carry out more studies.”   [ProPublica]

Meanwhile – Heart disease will kill 596,577 people in the United States, and another 73,831 will die from Diabetes.  So, faced with this obvious public health problem, what did the U.S. Congress do?  Republicans sponsored a bill to roll back school nutrition standards. [MMA] The implications are obvious, Republicans are favoring the food manufacturing interests over the advice of professional nutrition experts.  Oh, and did we remember that the “School Nutrition Assoc.” receives most of its funding from companies which sell food to schools?

Meanwhile – What are we doing to cut the numbers of stroke victims (128,932)? Cancer victims (576,691)? Chronic respiratory disease victims (142,943)? Alzheimer’s victims (84,974)? Flu and Pneunomia (53,862)? Nephritis (45,591)?   We cut the budget for the Centers for Disease Control.

“The agency’s budget in 2014 is $5.9 billion, compared to the $6.5 billion allotted in 2010.  Last year’s budget deal delayed the across-the-board sequester cuts until fiscal 2016, but the law required the CDC to cut 5 percent, or more than $285 million, from its fiscal 2013 budget, the agency said.” [TheHill]

And while the right wing is screaming about how we’re not being kept safe from Ebola and ISIS, or Ebola and ISIS, or Ebola with ISIS, or ISIS with Ebola,  what did the GOP House do to the funding for the agency tasked with securing public health?

The sequester resulted in a $195 million cut in 2013 to the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, which aims to prevent illness and death by a wide variety of infectious diseases, according to the CDC. A CDC report from earlier this year also noted its funding for public health preparedness and response activities was $1 billion lower in fiscal 2013 than in 2002.  [TheHill]

However, all the statistics in the world won’t be as entertaining as Jon Stewart’s rendition of the Million Ways to Die in the U.S.   DO click and enjoy!

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Filed under Gun Issues, health, Health Care

Violence Leaves Home: Active Shooting Incidents and Domestic Violence

The report (pdf) from a joint FBI/Texas State University doesn’t have much good news for the absolutists of the National Rifle Association.  The study analyzed shooting incidents in the United States over the past 13 years and reported the following resolutions to the incidents.

The Violence

In 37 (23.1%) of the 160 active shooting incidents the shooter committed suicide at the scene before police arrived.  In 21 (13.1%) of the incidents an unarmed citizen successfully restrained the shooter.  In 2 of the incidents (1.3%) armed off-duty law enforcement personnel ended the threat.  In 5 of the incidents armed non-law enforcement citizens ended the shootings in which 3 shooters were killed, 1 committed suicide, and 1 was wounded.  For all the noise about arming everyone to the gunwales, only 5 of the 160 incidents ended because of armed citizen intervention.  No doubt the NRA ammosexuals would argue that if More Citizens were Armed, then More Incidents would have been resolved at the scene by a Citizen Shooter.  This conclusion is actually counter-intuitive.

More people firing more rounds in an active shooter situation doesn’t make anyone safer.  The NRA logic requires that we ignore a crucial part of the equation – the bystanders.  The fantasy that our Citizen Shooter will “take out the bad guy” requires that the scene be something out of the OK Corral mythology during which bystanders fled to safety, or possibly that the Citizen Shooter is so marvelously competent that no bystander or witness will be in peril of flying rounds of ammo.  Nor does the Citizen Shooter image crack through the actual numbers – in 13.1% of the incidents an unarmed citizen was successful and in only 3.1% was an armed citizen successful.

The Domestic Violence

However, there’s more to this analysis than the augmentation of what we already know – more guns doesn’t solve the problems – there’s a link between active shooting incidents and domestic violence. From the report:

“Of note, male shooters also acted violently against women with whom they had or once had a romantic relationship. In 16 (10.0%) of the 160 incidents, the shooters targeted current, estranged, or former wives as well as current or former girlfriends. In 12 incidents, the women were killed; in 3 incidents, the women sustained significant injuries but survived; and in 1 incident, the shooter could not find the woman.  While perpetrating this violence, an additional 42 people were killed and another 28 were wounded.”

Not to put too fine a point to it, but 42 people died and 28 suffered gunshot wounds because the ‘domestic violence’ got out of the house.

Here’s the point at which NRS 33 (Injunctions) kicks in.  Nevada statutes allow for an emergency restraining order or a  temporary restraining order, with courts available 24/7 to issue emergency orders barring the ‘adverse party’ from threatening the victim or victims, being in the victim’s residence, and doing any harm to pets.  [NRS 33.020]  But, the TRO doesn’t get the guns out of the house. The TRO doesn’t take the guns away from the ‘adverse party,’ and if the aforementioned ‘adverse party’ is of a mind to participate in something like the 16 incidents in the FBI report, then there is nothing in the law to stop him.

It is only when an extended order of protection is sought that anyone starts paying attention to the firearms.  NRS 33.031-033 offers the ‘adverse party’ potential shooter some protection for his firearms.  Here’s the catch:

“ A temporary order can last up to 30 days.  However, if you file for an extended order at the same time that you file for the temporary order (or at any time while the temporary order is in effect), the temporary order will last until the date of your hearing for an extended order (which could be up to 45 days from the date you file for the extended order).*1 [WLOrg]

That’s up to 45 days for our hypothetical ‘adverse party’ to retain the firearms, and perhaps decide to use them.  This gives the ‘adverse party’ his day in court to protect his ‘gun rights,’ but on the other hand it gives him possession of lethal weapons for up to 45 days.  In a much safer world the firearms would leave his hands during the imposition of the emergency restraining period.  The ammosexuals would no doubt start sputtering.

But, but, but “I have a Constitutional Right to my Gun?”  “You can’t take it away from me before I have my day in court!”  The Day In Court Argument is logically fragile.  I have a Constitutional Right to my own religious practices, however if I decide to become a practicing Aztec and select victims for sacrifice to the Sun – there’s little doubt the state would make every effort to stop me well before my court date.

In a safer world the guns would be gone during the period  specified by the temporary restraining order.   There’s no requirement that the ‘adverse party’ show up at the TRO hearing, but there’s nothing to prevent it either?  In our not-quite-so-safe world those guns can be in ‘adverse party’ hands for up to 45 days.  There are at least 70 casualties mentioned in the FBI report which might have been prevented by tougher injunctions, and more vigorous enforcement of those orders?

There is a compromise position which the Legislature might consider.  How might domestic violence in Nevada be mitigated if we agreed that if the domestic violence incident included shooting or threats of shooting, then the emergency protection order could include the dispossession of firearms? Or, if the ‘adverse party’ was the perpetrator of previous acts of violence then the firearms would be handed over to law enforcement for storage pending further actions by the court?   It would seem logical to take the escalation factor into account when dealing with those who tend toward assault and battery.

Nevada’s laws aren’t the worst in the nation, but they could be better, and more focused on preventing active shooter violence – something for the next session of the Legislature to consider?

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Filed under domestic abuse, Gun Issues, Nevada legislature, Nevada politics

Dunce of the Day: Open Carry At High School

Embody There’s dumb, and then there’s dumber.  Leonard Embody, from the Nashville area, likes to pack his gun around so everyone can see it.  He’s a registered nurse, a licensed firearms dealer, and an avowed ammosexual.  Leonard has been actively flashing his gun since at least 2009 when he decided his 2nd Amendment ‘rights’ allowed him to pack heat in a state park. [ExCLS]  And now Leonard is unapologetic for scaring the bejeezus out of parents at Hillsboro High School.  [WSMV] [TPM]

“Witnesses say Embody was pacing Hillsboro Road, dressed much like a soldier, and it had a lot of people nervous. So nervous that 911 dispatchers had their hands full.

“He had a rifle across his back, and a Go Pro attached to his chest. I just thought that was kind of peculiar,” one caller said.” [WSMV]

Now what could possibly have alarmed those witnesses? Armed man? Dressed sort of  like a soldier? Rifle on his back? High School?  Columbine? Sandy Hook? Aurora?  Ready to film his adventures with his Go Pro? 

One parent interviewed by the television station was equally adamant:

“However, mothers like Telisha Cobb say doing this in front of a school is crossing the line.

“That man may not be worried about the epidemic of school shootings in our country, but moms and dads are, and we won’t tolerate this behavior,” Cobb said.” [WSMV]

And then the scary part continues as Embody explains himself:

Embody said he’ll continue making the rounds, defending the Second Amendment, no matter who it offends.

“I don’t think I look terrifying. Other people may think I look terrifying, but that’s in their own minds and that’s something they should deal with … with maybe a psychologist,” Embody said.

Metro school officials said their resource officers were aware of Embody’s demonstration, and had he set foot on campus, they would have arrested him. [WSMV]

Little wonder Mrs. Cobb is disturbed, as long as Leonard stays a step off campus he’s perfectly free to terrify anyone he likes, children and adults alike, because Tennessee is an Open Carry state.  He’s quite free to acclimatize children to the sight of a person carrying a firearm close to a school building, and equally free to ignore the possible consequences of doing so.  What happens when it’s NOT Leonard out there on the sidewalks?

Leonard Embody – Our Dunce of the Day!

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Militarized Middle Schools?

M16 Perhaps someone can explain to me why the Washoe County School District (Reno/Sparks, NV) needs eight M16 semi-automatic rifles? [RGJ]  I’d prefer an explanation which does not incorporate references to the tragic October 21, 2013 shooting at Sparks Middle School.  A middle school teacher lost his life, and another student was injured when a disturbed 12 year old brought a gun to school, fired shots on the playground, and then turned the gun on himself.  Adding more semi-automatic fire to the semi-automatic fire coming from the shooter doesn’t seem like a productive strategy for minimizing casualties.

And, that’s the point – isn’t it? To minimize casualties in school shootings. The M16, as I understand it, is designed for either single shot or three round bursts, and has a maximum effective range of 550 meters.  The rifle uses 5.56x45mm ammunition, and is capable of a sustained rate of fire of  12-15 rounds per minute; the magazine capacity is 30 rounds.  That seems to be a rather remarkable amount of fire power for a school setting.

But, but, but What If The Shooter Has An AR 15???  Yes.  And, then what if the shooter has an Anzio 20mm sniper cannon? The possibilities for escalation are endless in this illogical loop.  Keep this up long enough and we’re talking about calling in aerial bombardment and a unit from Special Forces.

But, but, but most members of the Armed Forces are trained to use some version of the M16, and if the school district officer is a veteran he’d be trained with this weapon?  Yes, again. But the question still remains, under what protocol would be weapon be used?  Does it really require an M16 to stop a shooter?  And, if the school district officer isn’t a veteran?

But, but, but we want schools to be safe, and why not equip our school police with the necessary weapons?  Yes, safety is part of the mission statement of the Washoe County school police force:

“The Mission of the Washoe County School District Police Department is to provide a safe and secure learning environment, which promotes an atmosphere of trust between the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural school community and the police department. Working hand in hand with local, county, state and federal agencies, the Washoe County School District Police Department is committed to minimizing its schools from violence, weapons, substance abuse, vandalism, and other hazards.”

Does is really engender “trust” when students witness school police armed with M-16’s? What does that say to members of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural school community?  There already seem to have been some trust issues leading to litigation, and the firing of a former School Police Chief. [2News]  Is there some basis for fearing the Washoe County School District might be called upon to assert the force of an M-16 to combat crime?

If we take 100 as the ‘national average rate’ and compare the rates for neighborhoods in the WCSD, the area looks reasonably safe.  The total crime risk is reported at 75, well below the national average. Personal crime risk is 83, murder at 95, rape at 78, robbery at 81, assault at 91, property crime at 78, larceny risk at 89, auto theft at 98, indeed the only risk rate higher than the national average is burglary at 101. [P2Homes]

The homes from which the students come seem to be in a region not known for advanced levels of violent crime, so what about the infractions which lead to suspensions or expulsions in the school district? The last accountability report (pdf) from the District show 1,302 incidents to ‘violence to students’ (read fight), 25 violence to staff, 78 weapons infractions (type not specified), 19 incidents of distributing controlled substances, 392 incidents of possession of controlled substances, 134 alcohol related incidents, and 188 infractions related to bullying, intimidation, or harassment.  If fighting on school grounds is the number one way to get sent home, possessing contraband drugs is number two, bullying etc. is number three, and possession or use of alcohol is number four, then why would the school district need eight M-16 rifles to keep order?

Granted one might break up a playground fight quickly with a few rounds from an M-16, but there are other time tested ways to do this without armament.

However, in the Power Up atmosphere of law (and now school policy) enforcement school districts are collecting military gear, and its not just Washoe County – which at least didn’t ask for an MRAP as did the LA Unified District.  [AP]  The atmosphere in question is on display in the comments from a Florida school district:

“In Florida, Rick Stelljes, the chief of Pinellas County schools police, said Wednesday that the county has 28 semi-automatic M16 rifles. They have never been used, and he hopes they are never needed. But, he said, they are “something we need given the current situation we face in our nation. This is about preparing for the worst-case scenario.” [AP]

Given WHAT current situation we face in our nation? There are some in the Wet-Pants Crowd who perceive threats constantly – ISIS is coming! The New World Order is Coming… with Blue Helmets and Black Helicopters! The Feds are Coming!  Most citizens recognize these threats for what they are… fear mongering and conspiracy shilling.  And, there’s the parent’s nightmare of a mass school shooting amid the mix.  Numbers offer some solace.  As of 2011 there were 98,817 public schools in this country, to which we can add another 33,366 private ones [DoEd] for a total of 132,183 elementary and secondary schools nationwide.

If we look at the number of school shootings from 2013 to 2014 there are 35 incidents in which students in public or private schools were involved.  Of those 35 incidents 5 were single victim suicides.  Only one, the August 20, 2013 incident at the Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia, resembled the horror of Newtown, CT.  During that confrontation unarmed school employee Antoinette Tuff called authorities and talked the gunman down.

For some perspective, consider that there were 35 incidents during 2013-2014  (or 30 if we exclude the single victim suicides) in 132,183 schools nationwide.  A total of 16 individuals, adults and children, lost their lives in 2013-14 school shootings, and one more of those must be classed as a suicide.  32 people, children and adults, have been injured.  As of the Fall 2013 there were 15,874,000 youngsters enrolled in public and private schools in this country.   Pull out the handy plastic brains, divide 30 by 132,183 and watch the exponent laden result: 2.2695e-4.  A similar thing happens when we take the number of fatalities (16) and divide by the number of students (15,874,000) and the result is 1.0079e-6.  Those numbers suggest that the odds of being involved in a lethal incident in a public or private school in the U.S. are really rather small.

Somehow these numbers, with their attendant scientific notation,  don’t offer much substance to the argument that in “these troubled times” school districts need MRAP vehicles and M-16 rifles.

Instead of arming school district police to the teeth, perhaps we could better focus our attention and resources on (1) removing guns from places where youngsters can get easy access? Or, (2) redoubling our efforts to reduce gang membership? Or, (3) provide adequate counseling services for troubled students? Or, (4) improving communication about the health and safety risks associated with gun ownership?  The Washoe County School District shows no inclination to return the 8 M-16s, and it assuredly doesn’t want to use them,  but if the actual risks are so small and the damage to the district’s image in the community could be so large – why did they participate in the militarization of their own school police force?

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Filed under education, Gun Issues

The Price Tag Plus $32: The economic cost of guns in America

Guns $32.00 – according to the author of a NIJ study on gun fire casualties that’s the direct societal cost per gun in the United States.   When the costs for drunk driving and gun related injuries were compared in 1994 the drunk driving costs were characterized as substantially higher.  Now that has reversed.  In 1992 medical care for a fatal shooting averaged $14,500. By 2010 the number was $28,700. [USAT]  More recent figures put the annual cost to American society at $214 billion, or $693 per person. [LeadersEdge] Where does this number come from?

“…societal cost figure includes medical costs incurred from firearms violence and the lost earnings of the victims—either the survivors of a firearms injury or costs to loved ones left behind in case of a fatal shooting. And it includes an estimated $11.9 billion in costs to government for such things as Medicare and Medicaid payments to victims. It also includes $1.5 billion in medical and mental health treatment, public services, adjudication, sanctioning and productivity losses for the perpetrator.”  [LEdge]

On the other side of the ledger, the firearms industry supports about 120,310 jobs in “supplier and ancillary industries,” and the manufacture and sale of firearms generates $33.3 billion to the economy.  This would include $10.4 billion in wages, $4.6 billion in federal and state business taxes, $460 million in excise taxes, and about $2.1 billion in federal and state taxes paid by the firearms industry and its employees.  [LE NSSF]  In short, we’re losing about $180.7 billion on this deal?

Other elements not under discussion are the secondary effects of gun violence, such as the loss of real estate value in neighborhoods which experience high levels of gun fatalities and injuries.  Nor are we taking into economic consideration the unwillingness of commercial and manufacturing firms to expand or site operations in neighborhoods which have high gun violence numbers.

Every instance of a gun related accident or homicide adds to the economic costs of relatively unregulated firearms in American society.  The logic is fairly simple:

“We have supported research for more than 20 years to better understand the problems of gun violence, the risk factors of gun violence and the policies that can prevent it,” says Nina Vinik, the gun violence prevention program director for the Joyce Foundation in Chicago. “One thing consistent in the research over the decades is the finding that where guns are more available, more readily accessible, there is a corresponding increase in levels of gun violence and injuries, in homicides, in suicides and in accidents.” [LEdge]

Arguments about the United States being a “violent society” stray from the essential point – it’s not that we’re necessarily more criminally inclined, but that the easy availability of firearms tends to make our adventures with guns more lethal – and more expensive. [HarvardMag]

Another point, about which we probably ought to be having more conversation is that the proliferation of firearms in this country is costing us more than their economic value in the total economy.  Capitalism works – but only if the market decisions made are rational.

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Filed under Economy, Gun Issues

Justified, Necessary, or Both?

The police action in Sparks, NV might be controversial, but the Washoe County District Attorney has ruled the officers were justified in shooting, and killing, an armed 45 year old woman with a blood alcohol level of 0.127 in October, 2013. [RGJ]  The wounding of the woman’s daughter may generate more controversy, but the incident illustrates some of the major issues surrounding the use of lethal force by police officers.

The woman in question was threatening suicide.  There may be no more frightening situation for law enforcement personnel than facing someone who feels there is nothing left to lose. Individuals have been reported as deliberately assaulting officers while unarmed or while brandishing a variety of lethal and non lethal weapons. Some, perhaps up to 100 per year are intent upon having the police officer assist a suicide. [PSMag] Whatever the woman’s intent, let’s avoid using the catch-phrase “suicide by cop,” because it’s an undefined, unclear, categorization into which altogether too many incidents can be inserted which may or may not resemble one another in detail. [Slate]

What is reasonably clear from the report is that the woman was pointing her gun at her own head at one point in the confrontation, and threatening to end her life.  Suicidal ideation is one symptom of mental illness, and in entirely too many cases we are asking the police to serve as mental health professionals, a task for which they aren’t trained.

The fatal shooting of a homeless, mentally ill, man by the Albuquerque, NM police generated criticism of the officers’ use of lethal force last March, but it also highlighted the growing number of instances in which mentally ill individuals – lacking adequate local mental health services – are coming into contact with police agencies. [NYT]

There are training programs available for police officers, such as the NAMI Crisis Intervention Team model.    The Las Vegas Metro PD is working with NAMI-Southern Nevada to develop a collaborative pre-arrest diversion program based on the CIT model. [NAMI-SN] The Reno Police Department also has such a program. [UMemphis]  Smaller, more rural, Nevada counties may or may not have a CIT program in place. [UMemMap]

There is research indicating that the training works.  CIT trained responders were more likely to be engaged in “referral or transport” than in an arrest, and only 12% of the encounters in the study escalated to the level of physical force, and CIT trained personnel “were significantly more likely to report verbal engagement or negotiation as the highest level of force used.” [AJP pdf]

However, it would be remiss not to ask: How much effort is being put into alleviating the necessity of having expansive CIT programs? How many resources does the community provide for the mentally ill?

We also know the unfortunate woman had a blood alcohol concentration level well above Nevada’s general 0.08% limit.  We don’t know whether in this specific case alcohol was a constant or a periodic problem, and it really doesn’t matter individually, but collectively speaking it does raise the question of how well resourced and available alcohol treatment programs  are in the area?  Are they plentiful and affordable? Are they convenient in terms of access or are there long waiting lists and limited treatment facilities?

This case in Sparks, NV also requires some reflection on several other issues. For example, is the “suicide by cop” categorization appropriate, or not?  Are we adopting and implementing consistent training programs throughout Nevada cities and counties which might reduce the escalation of incidents into lethal territory?  Are we asking police departments and law enforcement agencies to assume too much of the burden of initial interaction with mentally ill or suicidal individuals?

As with all such tragic incidents, we’re always left with more questions than answers.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Health Care, Mental Health, Nevada politics

We can’t solve what we can’t see: How a lack of national police reporting obscures local problems

BlindfoldOn November 28, 2011 the Las Vegas Review Journal published an article in which it was reported:

“The nation’s leading law enforcement agency (FBI) collects vast amounts of information on crime nationwide, but missing from this clearinghouse are statistics on where, how often, and under what circumstances police use deadly force. In fact, no one anywhere comprehensively tracks the most significant act police can do in the line of duty: take a life.

“We don’t have a mandate to do that,” said William Carr, an FBI spokesman in Washington, D.C. “It would take a request from Congress for us to collect that data.”

Local law enforcement agencies have guidelines and internal review processes in one form or another, but what they don’t have are compilations of statistics which would facilitate analysis of trends, and problems.

As of July 31, 2012 Mother Jones magazine cited the Review Journal study of shootings in Las Vegas, Nevada, but was still lamenting the lack of national statistics and analysis.   Six days ago, August 14, 2014, USA Today reported the results of an FBI study which concluded, flawed though it may be, the FBI database is the best thing we have, and it’s informing us that officers have been involved in approximately 400 lethal events.   Again, the problem of statistical gaps raised comment:

“University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert, who has long studied police use of deadly force, said the FBI’s limited database underscores a gaping hole in the nation’s understanding of how often local police take a life on America’s streets — and under what circumstances.

”There is no national database for this type of information, and that is so crazy,” said Alpert. “We’ve been trying for years, but nobody wanted to fund it and the (police) departments didn’t want it. They were concerned with their image and liability. They don’t want to bother with it.” [USAT]

This goes some distance toward explaining why we’ve not been able to address the issues of officer involved lethal events with any precision.  Police departments are reluctant to report incidents with any specificity and quantity, Congress won’t ask the FBI to compile the information, and the blind lead the blind into interminable debates about IF there is a problem, and what the nature of the problem might be.

There are 17,000 law enforcement jurisdictions in the United States, but only 750 contribute such statistics to the national database. [USAT]  Here’s why this is a problem:

# Failure to quantify a problem, or to attempt a quantification using a mix of statistical and anecdotal evidence colors any scientific analysis of projections, correlations, and trends.  We cannot rationally analyze and evaluate that which we cannot statistically describe.

For example, if we have two highly publicized cases of lethal events, does this mean we have a problem?  Is the problem ethnic? Cultural? Is it even a problem?  Lacking valid and reliable statistical context none of these questions can be adequately addressed.

# Without a statistical context the anecdotal and the immediate obscure the predictive and the analytical. The argument becomes one of perception, and perception uninformed by any clarification or larger context.  When the argument spills into the street the view becomes even more opaque.  While the existing statistics do support the assertion that interactions between white officers and black suspects are more likely to be negative, the limited depth of the statistics precludes giving the numbers any range.  We have a general sense of negativity, from a limited number of jurisdictions, which leads to more problems.

# Since not all law enforcement agencies are compelled to supply statistics on this subject, there is little predictive value from the numbers we do have.  We can study the trends in large agencies, such as Las Vegas Metro, Los Angeles, or New York City, but little can be reliably said of agencies which do not report.  Unfortunately, this situation means that smaller, or less responsive, police departments can’t adequately address problems — real or potential — in their environs and jurisdictions.

For example:  Let’s create a hypothetical in which there is a major metropolitan police department which does track and report its officer involved lethal event figures.  If this is a well administered, community responsive, department then we can reasonably conclude that Megatropolis area has good police/community relations.  Further, if a few suburban departments collect and report their statistics, and those, too, are positive, then most community leaders might conclude relations in the overall region are generally good, and in no need of assessment or change.

But, let’s toss a fly in our hypothetical ointment — What if there is a cluster of small jurisdictions in the metropolitan area which do not report, and do not have a demonstrable record of positive interactions with their community members?   In this instance, the partial analysis  of statistics from a limited sample obfuscates problems which will eventually flare into anecdotal evidence.  Or, to put it more simply — into people in the streets and headlines in the newspapers.

It didn’t have to be this way.  The International Association of Chiefs of Police began collecting data on officer involved incidents in 1995, and reported in 2001 that there were 3.6 records of use of force for every 10,000 calls for service.  [IACP]  For the first two years the project was supported by a joint grant from the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Institute of Justice, and from 1998 to 2001 the database was funded by the IACP. [IACP pdf]  The IACP developed proto-type software for reporting and worked to secure state and local cooperation, but in 2001 the funding dried up and the project halted. [USAT]

Therefore, for the last 13 years we’ve been effectively operating with vision obscured by the lack of hard data.  Some law enforcement agencies may have made great strides in terms of community relations — but we’d not see that reflected in national statistics because we don’t have the numbers. There may be some police departments which have trajectory trends in police officer incidents that are essentially negative — but we don’t know this because we don’t have the numbers. There may be some regional problems indicating negative trends in community relations, but we don’t know this because we don’t have the numbers.

There are also reasons for police departments to support the collection of more, and better, data.  First, it’s really difficult to fix problems which aren’t acknowledged, and when anecdotal evidence — from either side — is all that’s available it is all too easy to miss trends. Secondly, if Department A is tracking its use of lethal force, while in the next door ZIP code Department B is functioning blithely unaware that it has a growing problem, then it’s reasonable for Department A to be aware of neighboring problems which threaten to land on its own doorstep. And, third, it is all but impossible to objectively evaluate the seriousness of issues such as the use of lethal force, and the efforts made to correct injustices,  without a solid, reliable, national database.

It’s high time for Congress to require that the Bureau of Justice Statistics compile and report statistics on officer involved use of force incidents, and to resurrect the IACP project with adequate funding.  Otherwise, we’ll continue to blunder in the dark, living witness to the truth of the old adage: There are none so blind as those who will not see.

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