Essentially, there are four ways to help create this database of people killed during encounters with police. The first and easiest is with a little cash. While I expect to hit up nonprofit funders of journalism, more parts of this project have to go live before I feel comfortable asking nonprofits for help. In the meantime, I’m paying for web hosting, software, development, classes, FBI FOIA charges, etc., out of my own pocket. And believe me, as a single parent, a double master’s student, and a lifelong journalist, there’s not a hell of a lot in my pocket. Lint, maybe.
This is a quick update to this page. After the troll attack after the Gawker article came down, I was forced to make the spreadsheet uneditable. Now, instead of working directly on the spreadsheet, just pick a row you like, go to the database and check the last name (so you won’t be repeating anyone’s efforts), and then research and fill in the missing details on the submissions form. I’ll give a full update to this page as soon as I have a free moment. Thanks for all your help, I’m overwhelmed and touched. D. Brian
Local public records requests
Second, journalists and other interested people can print out and submit public record requests in their own states from the “For public records requests” tab. The idea behind this is that locals know their own state’s public records laws. This site provides the names and mailing addresses of all the law enforcement agencies in any geographic area in the United States.
This database is available to anyone for any use. It’s from a public document, although I don’t think it was available until this database was created. In exchange for its use, particularly if it’s being used to make public records requests regarding fatal encounters with police, I’d appreciate it if you’d drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, telling me what agencies you’ve made requests of (county and state) and, when a response is received, a copy of the results so the information on the incident database can be updated and/or verified.
Third, for new incidents, submit directly to the site by clicking on the heading “Submit fatal encounters,” filling in available information, and hitting submit. It’s the nature of how this information trickles out that initial reports are spotty at best. It’s probably a good idea to allow a few days to pass and then begin researching and inputting the data. However, something is better than nothing, and if a few days pass, and the news media or law enforcement have not posted more complete data, please submit what information is available. This is a work in progress, and partial information will help focus future public information requests and enable further research.
The fourth way people can help is by updating partial information I’ve scraped from the internet regarding incidents going back to 2000. To accomplish this, I’ve created a Google spreadsheet of incidents scraped from various sources, including Wikipedia, here on the master spreadsheet.
Open the spreadsheet and look for a row that has a lot of empty fields. Open your favorite search engine and the submission form in new tabs so you can switch back and forth from the search-engine tab to the spreadsheet to the submission form. Column Q should have enough information to link to the original story that this partial information came from–just make it your search string. Sometimes Column Q will have a URL for a published piece. It’s easiest to start there just to get an idea of the environment in which you’re working. For example, it may be as easy as searching at the same media source for a follow-up story to fill in the gaps.
However, few things are easy.
After filling in any data from the original source that didn’t make it to the spreadsheet, I search the subject’s name and other pertinent information. Let’s use a random incident, Line 905, James Popkowski. For reasons of illustration, let’s pretend Column Q had no additional information to fill in empty cells. As an example, I’ll create a new row (Line 906) below Popkowski’s and fill in the blanks.
Search James Popkowski on your search engine tab. We actually got lucky on this one because he was a former Marine whose death illustrated the difficulties veterans face when dealing with the medical treatment provided by the Veterans Administration so there was a lot of media attention. http://www.kjonline.com/news/report-cites-failures-in-vets-treatment_2010-12-13.html?pagenum=full
Start by going across the columns: Add the full name including middle initial ‘F.’ to the name field on the submission form. Add his age, 37, and his sex, Male. Next right-click his picture, Copy Image URL, and paste the result into the “URL of image of deceased” field. To get the information for street address, do a separate search for Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center, which results in the address 1 VA Center Augusta, ME 04330. Do you notice the error in the original entry? Popkowski was from Medway, Maine, but he was killed in Augusta, Maine. Put in the correct information.
There is another problem with Column M, Agency responsible for death. We don’t know, yet. The story we are looking at says, “Popkowski died July 8 from a single gunshot wound to the neck after a confrontation with a Veterans Affairs police officer and two game wardens.” We’ll look for more specific information later.
That’s about as far as we can get from this article. Let’s look a little deeper into our search results. You may want to copy this article’s URL into Column Q, just because it has so many details.
Look at the next search result. This is about as official as it gets, and it’s actually the report the first story was written from: Findings of the Attorney General in the Matter of the Shooting Death of James F. Popkowski on July 8, 2010 at the Togus VA Hospital: http://www.maine.gov/tools/whatsnew/index.php?topic=AGOffice_Press&id=173931&v=article Since this is the better, more official source, I exchange this URL for the one that we just pasted into Column Q.
From reading the report, we see that an officer from the VA police and a game warden fired simultaneously, and although forensics must have known from which gun the killing shot originated, the report doesn’t say. The best we can do is list both: Veterans Affairs Police/Maine Warden Service.
In the section Analysis and Conclusion, we see that the use of deadly force was found to be justified.
All that’s left to do is add your name or nickname to the “Submitted by” field, if you care to.
We got really fortunate with this entry. Usually, details are scant, and some tricks, like doing the initial name search, then hitting the “Search Tools” option, then clicking “Any Time,” then choosing “Custom Range,” and limiting the search to within 60 days of the death are necessary. I use Google Maps with street address, city and state in the search queue to get a zip code, then you can take the zip code and add it here to get the county.
Thank you for all your help,