Part of the genesis of the Black Lives Matter movement was the idea that America's police officers were killing blacks during arrests in disproportional numbers. After Michael Brown's death in Ferguson, Mo., and the subsequent decision not to prosecute Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Brown, the movement swept the nation. What happened in Ferguson will probably never be proved. Witnesses appear to have lied or enhanced their stories to fit the scenario of an unarmed black teenager being senselessly killed.
The prevailing sense that law enforcement summarily kills unarmed minorities is a difficult topic to uncover. It is part of the larger issues of race, demographics and varying police procedures. Thousands of police agencies have their own processes and definitions of what is acceptable when trying to arrest or restrain suspects. There's no central repository of information on the nation's police-related deaths or injuries. Videos fail to capture what is in the minds of officers or the public when an incident occurs.
Numbers compiled by The Guardian newspaper for a project show that U.S. police have killed 808 people in 2015, as of Sept. 10. A total of 395 white people have been killed and 205 were black. The rest were Hispanic (116), Asian/Pacific Islander (14), Native American (nine) or unknown (69).
The Gazette editorial board requested statistics on use-of-force complaints from Denver and Colorado Springs.
In 2014, the Denver Police Department completed 514,399 calls. During that same time frame, Denver's Independent Civilian Police Monitor logged 210 allegations of inappropriate force (ranging from handcuffs too tight to allegations of assault). Four were found to be actual misconduct and the officers were sanctioned. That means 0.04 percent of the calls resulted in any allegation of inappropriate force. Statistics on race show that from 2002 through July 2015: *
- 25 percent of all suspects shot by police in Denver were white.
- 26 percent of all suspects shot by police in Denver were black.
- 43 percent of all suspects shot by police in Denver were Hispanic.
* This data includes officers from State Patrol, the Denver Sheriff's Department, Metro State University Police, Aurora Police and others.
Last year, the Colorado Springs Police Department had 301,421 calls for service. Allegations of inappropriate use of force from 2011 to 2015 were 209. That means 0.069 percent of the calls resulted in use-of- force complaints. Of those, three of the complaints were substantiated. Many were simply not a policy violation or the officers were exonerated.
Statistics on shootings by race from 2010 to 2014 show:
- There were only 10 officer-related shooting deaths during the time period.
- 70 percent of all suspects shot by police in Colorado Springs were white.
- 20 percent of all suspects shot by police in Colorado Springs were black.
- 10 percent of all suspects shot by police in Colorado Springs were Hispanic.
Based on the data from these two law enforcement departments, it is apparent that at least for Colorado's two largest cities, excessive force isn't an issue and race isn't a defining factor.
We need to know and understand the numbers when an issue is as controversial as this. Urban myths are not based on fact. Mayor John Suthers has pledged to equip all Springs police officers with body cameras, which will facilitate investigations of unnecessary force. Denver is also instituting a policy on body cameras requiring officers to use them during public interactions. Technology and an understanding of the facts should combine to disprove the notion that police departments are killing innocents.