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HOLMBERG: It’s a crime that we don’t know who police shoot and how often

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RICHMOND, Va. -- We’ve been hearing a lot about racial injustice since an unarmed teen was shot to death in Missouri on August 9.

So just how often do white – or black - police officers shoot African-Americans in this country?

How many whites or members of other races are killed by cops?

The crazy thing is, we don’t know. We really have no clear idea.

But the FBI keeps up with every other kind of crime in its annual review called the Uniform Crime Reports.

In 2012, for instance, there were 14,827 murders, 84.376 rapes, 223,123 bicycles stolen and 29,462 pockets picked.

But we don’t know how many people were killed or injured by police officers across the country. There are some approximate numbers for justifiable fatal use of force cases kept by the FBI, but these are known to be woefully incomplete.

“Our government pretty much has statistics on virtually everything,” former FBI agent and crime author Jim Fisher told me during a telephone interview from his Pennsylvania home. “We could probably find out how many pounds of potatoes the citizens of Wisconsin ate in 1994. Yet on something this important, why don’t they keep the records?”

This has been a known problem for nearly a half-century.

A 1977 study looking at excessive use of force cases by The Police Foundation concluded: “The lack of systematic, centralized data
collection in many departments inhibits the rational development of new policies, training programs, and
enforcement procedures.”

Twenty years ago, this chronic lack of reliable data on the extent of excessive force received the attention of the United States Congress
in enacting the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. The Act requires the Attorney General to collect data on excessive force by police and to publish an annual report from the data.

These reports have been generated, but based on data so incomplete, it’s pretty much guesswork. [CLICK HERE to see the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics’ long-term summary of those reports]

Jim Fisher, who has written extensively on this issue and the militarization of police departments, authored what is often-cited as a very thorough one-year analysis of police use-of-force cases. He did a daily computer database search for on-duty, police-involved shootings across the nation for all of 2011. He found 607 fatal use-of-force shootings – more than 200 above what the FBI reported for that year – along with about 500 non-fatal police-involved shootings. [BONUS:  Fisher's report]

Fisher believes this ultimate in government action – taking or maiming a life – needs to be carefully recorded for all to see.

I completely agree. These numbers are similar to cameras that are now virtually everywhere. They can help keep police, and us, honest in our encounters. These numbers can dispel myths or eliminate doubt about them. They can help train and reduce fatalities to citizens AND police, because there is a distinct correlation between them.

Interestingly, one of the better sites to read about these cases each year is on Wikipedia. Granted, the listed summaries are from the incomplete list of reported slayings, but you can get a pretty good feel for what’s going on.

After reading about 300 of these summaries of fatal shootings by police, I can tell you this for sure:

If you don’t want to be killed by police, do not commit crime. Do not fight with the police. Do not point anything at them. Do not make any sudden moves.

And even that may not work.

The absolute best thing is, when the police are here, you be elsewhere.

Friends, there’s no doubt there’s way too much crime, violence and disrespect in this nation.

Being a cop is a tough, often thankless job – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

But we as a nation not having good, clean statistics about use-of-force and killings by police is not only wrong.

It’s a crime.


  • Fred Hill

    How about real reports of black on white crime.The media constantly hide the race and name of the perp purposely trying to hide the truth.Was it 75 or 80 shot in Chicago over 4th of July weekend?Who did the shooting?Common sense would tell you that more of this group would be shot by police.If the reports are true about the wounds to the officer and that he was charged after an attempt to try and get his weapon then this Black guy lacks in common sense also.Go to “white girl bleed alot” and find the truth.You can search victims and perps names and even request court documents.

  • Hang 10

    It is unfortunate that since 11 Sept we have become a nation that lives in fear. From Airports to local police, there is a controlling presence that gives an air of security, a false one.
    The police have a tough job but they have gone from protect and serve to harass and check. This is the double edged sword that the availability of guns presents. On one side law abiding citizens can carry in order to protect themselves but the Police can not distinguish between the good and bad guys.
    However, I do believe we need better (and longer) training for our law enforcement personnel. Having law enforcement running around looking like soldiers is not a good idea. Our government has a clear distinction between police and army, we need to keep that in mind.

  • kyle

    its a crime that blacks only care when a white cop shots a black person.when they start caring about the thousands of whites robbed,killed and raped by blacks yearly then somebody might care what they think.head in he sand fools

  • Bobby R.

    Mr H., I commend you for even broaching the subject. However, I take exception to your statement “…don’t do crime”. It is a well know fact that all the police/a police-person needs is a thought in their head that you have or that you fit some sort of profile or a quasi-description of someone that did. Then, when you protest(peacefully) that is presumed to be de-facto ‘evidence’ to them. Policemen are like journalists in that they are a necessary evil. Best regards.

  • Bob Doherty

    Unfortunately the problem you identified (lack of data on racial idenity of police shooting victims as well as the race of the shooter) is but one small part of a bigger problem – the lack of data on all gun related incidents, of which police involved killings would be am important subset. A reasonable person might ask why. It might just be because there are powerful enemies who just don’t want the data collected. They use lobbyists and other tools to block any legislative efforts to fund data collection (by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Bureau of Alcohol Tobaco and Firearms (ATF) FBI, and others) to do just that. Why you might ask? Maybe be because it might lead to public health initiative(s) to mitigate the carnage. Who are these people/corporations you ask? There are many. I would start by identifying those companies, groups and individuals who profit ($$$) by selling firearms and ammunition. Next I would move on to those “fiscal conservatives” who challenge the legitimacy of the federal government and/or just don’t want to pay for any government service that they can’t see benefiting them directly.

    Let’s contrast that with traffic safety and the critical role that accurate data has played in the progress we have made in that public health problem. In 1966 we were killing over 50,000 Americans a year in motor vehicle crashes. Economic projections were that that # would grow to well over 100,000 every year by the late 1970s. Congress held hearings and decided to create and fund a Federal program to study the causes of and implement strategies to mitigate the alarming human and financial costs resulting from those crashes.

    Much like the gun data problems identified, the traffic crash data did not exist, was not compatible (state-to-state) and not reliable. Early attempts to get the states to work together failed miserably. They refused to standardize data collected; they didn’t feel that they should work with local jurisdictions to amass statewide data and most did not want to share their data with the federal government. We finally solved the problem by (working with States) to identify “standardized” data elements, print the actual report form, give them to each state, pay for personnel in each state to collect and analyze the data and require that it be submitted. It worked. After many years of development, marketing and technical assistance, federal, state and local governments are working together to accurately reflect traffic crash data. We can all work together to continue to make progress in reducing motor vehicle crashes, deaths and injuries.

    Now that gun fatalities are estimated to pass motor vehicle related fatalities this year, the trend lines will only get worse for society. Until the citizens demand that their State and Federal legislators enable, fund, monitor and share data collection on all gun related crimes, we will see this same editorial over and over and over again.

  • Becky

    Oh, Pu-leeeze, Holmberg…
    There’s a Greater, Higher, Stronger, Dictated Precedence for Allowed Government Crime; and YOU. Holmberg, are part of it. In a Government established and legislated to be Of, By, and For The People, Paid for by the People, with accountability To The People….
    The Combined Armed Forces of Democratic Government at Federal, State and Local echelons …
    have deceptively and covertly taken over power and control of Public Broadcasting and Public Media. Their absolute, complicit and compliant cheerleaders, facilitators, and orchestrators.

  • BO

    Another bootlicking cracker chimes in against his own.Is it a white trait to confess false guilt to appease terds that should have never been given rights in the 1st place.

  • Robbie

    On June 23rd three black men were fighting outside a convenience store. Suddenly shots rang out and two blacks were shot. One died the other recovered. The Commonwealths Attorney ruled the shooting justifiable therefore no charges will be brought against the shooter. This offense took place on Hull St. My point, the officer in Ferguson had his eye socket fractured by the gentle giant. The shooting will be ruled justified. There are many web sites where donations can be made to the wrongly accused Police Officers future legal defense in the civil suit that’s sure to happen. WTVR will never print this or both sides of the real story.

  • Becky

    All Aligned Combined Arms Forces of Democratic Governance. with full complicit, compliant Media Operatives deliberately, decisively, and intentionally obstruct Public Information, IF and When it is politically Advantageous. NO allowed coverage or public information of illegal foreign alien
    invaders, their criminal acts, their current numbers, their current costs to Tax Payers, their club
    med tax paid facilities, where the government expects to release them into and onto the population, covertly, etc. Description of politically correct, preferred and profiled protected are now being withheld, routinely and deliberately. Media cheerleads lawless riotous mobs.

    • Crushing

      This Becky kracker bytch need to shut the phuck up. Krackers been killing blacks for years & years. It’s funny how these krackers talk mad shyt behind a computer!!!

  • John

    There is one fact, and that is more white kids go to schools to mass kill as many other kids as possible. It always the white kids planning the random killings with assault weapons. I can’t recall where some black kids mass kill their classmates or arrested for planning such an assault. Always white kids and likely former bible thumpers with money. As for as blacks killing blacks, yea so what, whites are much worse at killing their own.

    • Robbie

      I was agreeing with you right up to the last sentence. You are right about nobody caring. Whites killing more whites than black on black murders…I don’t buy that.

  • Clifton Hipsher

    Mr. Holmberge:

    For the past several months I have had the pleasure of watching your reporting. I was glad to finally be witness to the telling of stories about things that mattered to the citizens of metropolitan Richmond. From the passing of local celebrities, to the struggles and triumphs of “normal” folks, your reporting has always been timely, insightful, entertaining, and most of all accurate. Unfortunately your recent piece about the underreporting of law enforcement shootings is nothing more than knee jerk yellow journalism.

    The recent shooting in Ferguson Missouri is tragic for the simple fact that someone made a bad decision and a life was lost. What saddens me is that instead of holding off and waiting for the rest of the story to come out, you choose to jump off the cliff with the rest of the lemmings.

    How do you feel now Mr. Holmberg? How do feel knowing that you and the rest of the self serving grandstanding journalists in this country got it all wrong? After all of the fingerpointing, innuendos, rumors and outright lies, the truth of the story is that not only did Michael Brown commit a strong arm robbery and commit assault and battery on a law abiding shop owner, Michael Brown physically assaulted a police officer, Michael Brown tried to take the officer’s service weapon, and Michael Brown was not surrendering when the officer shot him. The officer shot Michael Brown because the officer was seriously injured, Michael Brown continued to threaten the officer, and the officer was in fear for his life.

    So Mr. Holmberg, is this how it is going to be? Are you really just like all the rest, too busy finger pointing at “The Man,” to see the real problem goes much deeper than race?

    Michael Brown did not get shot because he was Black. Michael Brown did not get shot because he lived in a particular part of town. Michael Brown did not get shot because of how he dressed, or how he talked, who his friends were, or where he went to church.

    Michael Brown got shot because he broke the law. Michael Brown physically assaulted a police officer and threatened the life of a police officer. Michael Brown got shot because he made the wrong choice.

    Now its your turn. You have a choice to make. Are you a lemming or are you a REAL journalist?

    • BO

      The police officer is innocent and everyone knows it.The real question is will he be sacrificed on the altar of political correctness?

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