From researcher Christopher Cox

The United States government does not keep accurate records about law enforcement-related deaths.

My boss does instead. Fatal Encounters operates from D. Brian Burghart’s dining room table, where other researchers and I are helping him to build a database of US law-enforcement related deaths from Jan. 1, 2000 to present. We call these deaths fatal encounters. We gather fatal encounters by scraping news reports, by making Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and by working with other researchers.

My most important job is located in Brian’s coat room: several boxes filled with FOIA responses from 1,916 law enforcement agencies in Texas, the state my posts will cover. I’m recording the responses and scanning police reports.

Some responses are so thick with legal jargon that I am still trying to figure out what they mean. So I move on to other responses, like the manila folders filled with stacks of police reports that I am still working on. One constable wrote on our letter that his department had not shot anybody in the period of time for which we requested information. Then he resealed the envelope and sent it back.

Some responses contain a hundred or more photos of one death. Others are so heavily redacted that, instead of text, many pages are black squares of ink from margin to margin. Others still are so detailed that we now know what size Dickies, what color shoes, and what kind of gun someone wore when a law enforcement officer killed him.

My job is to read these responses for the information we need, scan them into my computer and attach them to the appropriate fatal encounters. It looks like officers involved in shootings, who predictably receive “three days of paid administrative leave,” spend much of that leave writing reports about their actions.

Reading the reports, I sometimes think I’m reading paperwork someone filled out at a doctor’s office. If you search for the right fatal encounter, so can you! We attach as many police reports as possible to fatal encounters so that primary documents will be available to the public.

As I complete the Fatal Encounters database for Texas, I will release reports about my findings.

Lead Researcher Walt Lockley Speaks Up

On June 2, 2015, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced the Police Reporting Information, Data, and Evidence Act of 2015.  Co-sponsors were Sens. Al Franken (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Barbara Milkulski (D-MD).

Short and straightforward, the PRIDE Act would fund state efforts to collect data on all police shootings and other incidents resulting in deaths or serious injuries.  The data would include casualties caused by law enforcement officers along with the deaths and injuries suffered by officers.  The data would be reported to the U.S. Attorney General and then be made publicly available.

FatalEncounters.org is proud of our role in putting the first reliable numbers to the issue of police-involved homicides in the United States in 2013, 2014 and 2015.  The introduction of the PRIDE Act is a signal that the debate is moving forward.

Sen. Booker pointed out in his press release: “The first step in fixing a problem is understanding the extent of the problem you have.”  Any effort to address the disturbing epidemic of police killings in the U.S. begins with data.  It’s a problem that no government official or agency can describe the size or shape of police brutality in the United States.  We see that problem as fixable.  That’s our mission.

And we’ve been effective.  In 2014 the key contribution of Fatal Encounters was to show that the annual total of police killings was far bigger — three times bigger — than the widely reported and accepted annual figures provided by the FBI.  That breakthrough was only a few months ago.  Other, bigger media outlets, like the Washington Post and the Guardian UK, have joined the chorus since.  While their missions are slightly different than ours, their voices are welcome, and we’re grateful for their acknowledgement and assistance, as they’ve enabled us to focus on data that’s a little older while they work on 2015.  We’re proud to have formed the foundations of their efforts.

The introduction of the PRIDE Act is an important milestone and worth applauding.  There are open questions about the relationship of the states, who would receive the grants, and the local police jurisdictions, who might be incented to report on themselves, or who might continue to refuse.  As of 1995 state law in Maine mandates that its attorney general investigates and reports on all incidents of police deadly force in the state.  Maine may be a model in this regard but it is the only state with such a requirement.  That solves one-fiftieth of the problem.

The work of Fatal Encounters, creating an impartial, comprehensive and searchable national database of people killed during interactions with law enforcement, continues.  We are driven by crowdsourced contributions and completely funded by donations. If you’d like to help with donations, your money will go directly to the research. If you want to help with the research, just send Brian an email.

 

New York Times Analysis

Sarah Cohen, Editor of the New York Times computer-assisted reporting team and co-writer of this story that ran about Fatal Encounters today, was kind enough to allow me to post their spreadsheet which shows the analysis of officer-involved homicides by 100,000 population.

Five deadliest jurisdictions in order: 1) New Mexico, 2) District of Columbia, 3) Arizona, 4) Nevada, 5) Oklahoma

Five safest jurisdictions in order: 47) Massachusetts, 48) New Jersey, 49) New York, 50) New Hampshire, 51) Rhode Island

Download the spreadsheet here.

Caveats: Note: Population and crime numbers are from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Uniform Crime Report from 2012, the most recent available.
Police-involved killings are from the Fatal Encounters database, June 2013-December 2014, excluding accidents and suicides.
Most analyses exclude the District of Columbia.

RN&R Series, FE 6

Wow, that’s pretty hilarious. I just realized I never posted the final piece of the newspaper’s series. It ran on December 31, 2014. (Yes, I know it says January 1 on the website, but the newspaper came out on December 31 because of the holiday, and our website is too stupid to update.)

Numbers game

Congress re-authorized an ineffective law to track officer-involved homicides

By  

I write in the third person when I want news articles to sound credible. This year, I’ve written the first five installments in the Fatal Encouters series—our look at officer-involved homicides—in the third person. It’s the way “respectable” straight journalists write in the national media. It’s the way journalism academics teach students to write. (I once had a master’s level instructor tell me that first-person narratives are forbidden in the AP Stylebook.) When we read or hear the third person voice, our brains are conditioned to react in a certain way.

One problem with third-person reporting is, I don’t write for a national audience, and I don’t much care whether people outside the McCarran Loop find me credible. I’ve been an alternative journalist at this paper for more than 20 years, and people around here either think I have integrity or they don’t.

Another problem is that the bureaucrats we journalists cover know how to manipulate media outlets who use this style of reporting. They just say nothing or they make an incredible assertion, so the journalist either doesn’t use the quote, types it like a stenographer, or finds a contradicting voice. The fact is the last option is the best, but journalists work on deadline. In many news outlets, not getting a second side on the record—even if they’re the reticent ones—is enough to quell an article.

For the rest of the story, visit the Reno News & Review site


 

August 2013
compared to August 2014

By 

19.December31Featuresidebar1


Data clash

By 

The two infographics on this page show the difference in federal reporting of officer-involved deaths. The top chart shows the statistics compiled by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, regarding Arrest-Related Deaths, available at www.bjs.gov/index.cfm?ty=dcdetail&iid=243, which include “records of all deaths occurring during the process of arrest. Data are collected directly from state and local law enforcement agencies.”

The bottom graph is accrued data released by the Department of Justice with the Uniform Crime Report’s Expanded Homicide Data, http://1.usa.gov/1wscWMb, which purports to show the killing of a felon by a law enforcement officer in the line of duty. Large jurisdictions, including the state of Florida, have not contributed to this dataset, and yet national news organizations report the numbers as though they’re comprehensive enough to draw conclusions from.

The assumption would be that the bottom graphic would be a subset of the top graphic. That assumption would be erroneous, and neither chart is accurate or comprehensive. What both graphics show, though, is that the Death in Custody Reporting Act had little-to-no effect on the reporting of statistics.

RNRpg15_123114

RN&R Series, FE5

Eyes wide open

What should citizen oversight of law enforcement look like?

By  

Particularly since Michael Brown’s death at the hands of police in Ferguson, Missouri, a national dialogue has been taking place regarding the creation of citizen oversight boards to monitor law enforcement. In this, the fifth installment of Fatal Encounters, the Reno News & Review’s series on issues of deadly police violence, we’ve assembled a panel of people who, for various reasons, have reached the national stage with regard to police violence.

Our panel includes Brian Buchner, president of NACOLE, National Association of Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement, which has engaged with the city of Ferguson to develop a new citizen oversight committee in that community. Pete Eyre is co-founder of Cop Block, a national decentralized project that focuses on police accountability. Pamela J. Meanes is president of the National Bar Association and active in the recent actions in Ferguson, Missouri. Jonathan S. Taylor is a professor at California State University, Fullerton, who’s been active in issues of police violence, particularly following the brutal crackdown on the Occupy Movement and the killing of the mentally ill man Kelly Thomas in 2011.

This conversation, due to technical problems, took place in two instances, which were combined. All the participants were asked five questions, of which they were informed in advance.

For the rest of the story, visit the Reno News & Review site


 

The two faces of David Krambs

By 

Officer-involved homicides tend to be black-and-white affairs. Police offer one view of a death, usually a snapshot of a few minutes. Friends and family offer a movie view of a life. People remember mostly the good of dead friends and family, but it’s the police version that usually gets told by the media.

David Krambs was 33 years old. He was about 5-feet-10 inches, about 195 pounds. Light complexion, short, brown hair, brown eyes, no glasses. He lived down the street from Reno High in a little gray corner house at 1401 Elizabeth St. He used to program for IGT, but he was unemployed in February of last year.
For the rest of the story, visit the Reno News & Review site.


Public eyes

By 

During this election season, Washoe County Sheriff candidates Tim Kuzanek and Chuck Allen have offered some responses that have bearing on how they feel about citizen oversight of police. Here is what we’ve gathered:

These questions were asked of the candidates for sheriff by the RN&R before the primary: In light of the problems with officer-involved shootings happening in places like Albuquerque, New Mexico, would you be amenable to modifying Washoe County’s officer-involved shooting protocol membership to include a non-law enforcement member? Why or why not?
For the rest of the story, visit the Reno News & Review site.

How to research the FBI data

This is a post for those who are researching the anonymized data from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report. It’s on the FBI Data Tab at the bottom of the master Fatal Encounters from Web sheet (second tab at the bottom of the page).

It’s easiest to research after 2007 or so, but if you happen to be in a local library, you can use old school methods with microfiche to research prior years.

For internet research, open Google Search and search “killed + Agency Responsible (Column I) + State (Column J).”

I’ll use Row 10 as an example, so “killed Roseville CA”

Chances are there will be too many responses, so go to that button ‘Search tools” under the search field. Click it then “Any time” then “Custom range” then your selection’s month to the month following. For example From September 2012 to October 2012.

Check the person’s last name to see if it’s already entered into the database; http://www.fatalencounters.org/people-search/#namesearch

Submit data to the regular Submit Fatal Encounters form as usual, http://www.fatalencounters.org/google-form/ Please don’t forget to add the Unique Identifier Number, so I can change the color on this spreadsheet and other people don’t repeat your work.

If you have any problems with this, please don’t hesitate to contact me at d.brian@fatalencounters.org.

Shocking police homicide percentages

I saw that Charles Davis of Vice wrote that the Youth Justice Coalition found that “Each year, from 3 to 8 percent of all homicides are committed by members of the Los Angeles Police Department or the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.” Further, they said, “No criminal organization kills as many people as the police.”

Our data falls right in line with the Youth Justice Coalition’s. We don’t have comprehensive data on many states yet, but for those we do, I did the same calculation. Just for fun, I only give partial information for Rhode Island, but I show how to do the math. It’s easy. I wish somebody would figure out where the math is wrong because this stuff kind of freaks me out.

State Total Population Total Police Homicides FBI 1998-2012 FE 2000-2012 Total homicides Total percentage police homicides
Nevada 2.8 million 211 116 193 2226 8.8
New Hampshire 1.3 million 19 3 16 198 8.1
Connecticut 3.6 million 57 19 48 1500 3.2
Massachusetts 6.7 million 83 14 69 2163 3.2
Vermont 600,000 15 4 13 146 8.9
Maine 1.3 million 37 24 34 276 12.3
Rhode Island 1 million 16 14

Here’s how I did it, using Nevada as an example. You can fill in the rest of the data for Rhode Island, if you have a mind to:

Go to the FBI site.http://www.ucrdatatool.gov/Search/Crime/State/StatebyState.cfm
Select Nevada then select Number of Violent Crimes then select years 2000-2012. Add the column Murder and nonnegligent manslaughters. The answer is 2,226.

Then go here, http://www.fatalencounters.org/people-search/ Select Nevada, select Counties “all” then subtract the result from the 212 total killings for years 2014 and 2013; that results in 197 officer-involved killings 2000-2012.

That’s 197/2226×100, which is about 8.8 percent. I suppose it’s possible some of the police killings were included as nonnegligent manslaughters, but if any possible police killings were excluded, the bottom line percentage would increase, wouldn’t it? Feel free to check my math.

Lists, links and databases

I want to mention a couple of my associates in this effort to create a national database of people killed by police, and to talk about our different approaches to how we collect and disseminate the information. We are not the only attempts to collect this information, but I feel as though we’re the broadest. I can also say that no one of us is comprehensive, but when all is said and done, we will all be.

The first, and I think the oldest private attempt at collecting this information is the The October 22 Coalition to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation with its Stolen Lives Project. It predates the mass adoption of the internet, so there are no links, and they didn’t have the information-gathering technology we have now. Sometimes when researchers for Fatal Encounters try to follow up on some of the names mentioned in their publication, Stolen Lives Project, there’s no further information to be had. Visit their website, http://www.october22.org/, for information about their annual October 22nd National Day of Protest. I included the Stolen Lives Project names, ages, races, cities and dates going back until 2000 in the first spreadsheet designed for the crowd to fill in the blanks and submit to the FE database.

Operation Ghetto Storm” written by Arlene Eisen, with preface by Kali Akuno, was published by the Malcolm X Grassroots Committee. It is also available, with other important resources at www.mxgm.org. This report certainly raised and advanced the issue of a racial imbalance in the killing of Americans by police.

Wikipedia has its List of killings by law enforcement officers in the United States. I think it had fewer names than the list compiled by Stolen Lives, but every incident had a link, which made it the most useful list when I began this project, and so I also included its links going back until 2000 in the first spreadsheet. It was far from comprehensive, though, and it included some dubious links, for example, security guards who were not law enforcement officers who killed people.

Killed By Police on Facebook began on May 1, 2013. For recent police-involved homicides, he’s got the most comprehensive list, and we communicate quite a bit. His links are currently being researched and incorporated into the Fatal Encounters database. I’d say his Facebook page is several steps above earlier list efforts because it generally includes a photo, a public give and take with “friends,” and a bit of analysis, for example, its creator (who prefers to remain anonymous), offers a daily count of how many people have been killed so far this year and since the beginning of his site. On Sept. 25, 2014, there were 1,560 incidents listed since the site began. He does all the work of collection on a daily basis, an enormous job for any one person.

Lists and links are good. The ability to share Killed by Police’ information can’t be underestimated in the effort to raise awareness of the issue of police-related homicides. Killed by Police’ list with links makes it a hell of a lot harder for the FBI to maintain its fiction that there are only 400 people killed a year by law enforcement, as do stories like this USA Today article (despite its utterly misleading headline). But here’s the thing, a list is only a list. It’s a finite thing from which little can be extrapolated. A list becomes less useful the longer it gets unless you’re only counting entries on the list. In order to drill down to things like race or cause of death or even location, you need a database, which is what Fatal Encounters has sought to be from the beginning, albeit only a first step toward making a comprehensive database. In fact, Facebook has made it almost impossible to look up individual dates. (The FiveThirtyEight blog called it Facebook’s algorithm in this excellent story about Killed by Police. I don’t find anything about Facebook particularly beneficent, and in fact, when part of their business strategy is to prevent a user from getting at information in order to force them to look at ever increasing numbers of ads, I’d call them malevolent.) I go to KBP on an almost daily basis to see what the new developments are.

I want to talk about another effort that uses crowdsourcing to populate its spreadsheets before I talk about mine. We’re loosely collaborating, and while I’ve never spoken to Kyle Wagner of Deadspin about his different strategy, I can surmise that his database will be useful in different ways than Fatal Encounters. I can also say with some certainty that when our two databases are combined, and the crowd is then asked to fill in the blanks of the single database created by our combined efforts, we’re going to have the comprehensive national database of police violence the United States needs and deserves. I’ll be honest, though, I hope the Department of Justice picks up the data collection before we combine our information. On the other hand, though, the FBI has been lying for so long, I’m not sure I’ll believe them if they do start collecting and disseminating more complete information. Maybe a better hope would be for a nonprofit or university to pick up the data collection.

Deadspin is collecting more information in some areas and less in others than Fatal Encounters. For example, he collects information on all shootings, whether there was someone hit or killed or not. He’s also collecting officers’ names, whether the victim was armed or unarmed, types of weapons used, number of shots fired.

He does not intentionally collect information about deaths caused by means other than gunfire. He doesn’t collect information below city (street address or zip code) or the mental state of the decedents.

The key difference between Deadspin’s project and Fatal Encounters is that while Deadspin better allows researchers to investigate particular incidents and individual officers, Fatal Encounters is more useful for spotting regional trends and differences over time. Both are sensible strategies.

From the beginning, people have asked me why I didn’t collect the type of information that Deadspin does. The reasons are simple: I’m an old-school journalist, and from the start, I intended Fatal Encounters’ database to be backed with public documents. The crowd-sourced part of the project was going to be public records requests. As I mentioned in the “Why FE Exists” post, I knew that the instant I or anyone else made a public records request of a law enforcement agency that included asking for officers’ names or things that could be interpreted part of the investigative process, it would be turned down in many states.

I’ve written fairly extensively about the lengths the FBI went to to avoid releasing public information. Here’s another example. In this one, one of the highest law enforcement officers in the state of Idaho basically says she doesn’t care what the law is or that she doesn’t understand it, then promises to deliver the documents but only if I’d pay up to thousands of dollars for the privilege (and at the end, I was just asking for the two- or three-page printout of the results of a search she had already said existed), then, of course, she fails to deliver. I don’t have the money to file an appeal in the district court, and of course, Lead Deputy Attorney General Stephanie A. Altig knows this, as does her boss, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. This is how the game is played.

To make a long story short, I didn’t want to request what I knew I had neither the time nor resources to get. But besides that, I knew if I didn’t ask for it, I’d often get it anyway since most states don’t make an exception for public employees’ names. Police officers’ names are always part of the report, and if an agency then illegally redacts them, you have something to show a judge. They often do it anyway, and then they charge you for the privilege. But, too, I was most concerned about influencing policy, which meant that individual acts weren’t what I was concerned with. I wanted people to be able to look at a region or city and say, “They kill fewer people in the Northeast than they do in the West, shouldn’t we look at why they have better outcomes” or “Wow, they have fewer vehicular homicides in places where they don’t have high-speed pursuits, maybe we can change that policy.”

Aside from the policy stuff, though, I have two longer range plans for the Fatal Encounters data. First, I want to compare zip codes to U.S. Census Bureau data to determine the socio-economic demographics of where people get killed. I think we acknowledge this anecdotally, but since the numbers are withheld from us, we can’t yet prove that the single largest determining factor about whether people get killed by police is not race, not gender, not mental state, but how much money people have. The other thing I hope to do is to compare names to Veteran’s Administration roles. I think we’ll find a huge percentage of the people killed by police are veterans.

At any rate, I hope this post will help people to understand that no single effort that is being worked on is complete unto itself, and my site is just one step in a long series of steps to create a comprehensive database of people killed by police, since our government has refused to despite the 1994 law ordering the Department of Justice to collect the data. It’s going to take more than a village; it’s going to take the whole crowd.

Idaho’s Public Records Problem

People and news organizations often ask me how government goes about hiding information about police activities. I’ve written about it fairly extensively, but here’s a pretty good example how Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office does it. I sent a bunch of emails, but in this first battle, the government won in its illegal behavior, not with a bang, but with a whimper that trails off to silence. It’s a practice and method that often works against journalists and the public because we simply don’t have the time to deal with public servants who neither care about the law or serving the public.

I’m sorry this post starts out a little slow, but I want people to have all the information so they can draw logical conclusions. The first responses by Idaho’s government bureaucrats are documents, so I’ll just link to them.

Here is the boilerplate public records request that was mailed to all the state and local law enforcement agencies with addresses in Ada County, Idaho, according to the Fatal Encounters law enforcement agency database.

Dear Public Records Administrator:

Under the Idaho Public Records Law Idaho Code §§ 9-337 through 9-350, I am requesting copies of reports that show details regarding incidents of fatal encounters between people and your agency between Jan. 1, 2000 and today’s date. Please also include the results of any investigations your department conducted of other agencies regarding these types of incidents.

The specific information I’m looking for includes: decedent’s name; age; gender; race; date of death (month/day/year); location of death (address, city, state, zip code, county); agency(s) responsible for death; cause of death (e.g. gunshot, vehicle, Taser); a brief description of the circumstances surrounding the death; official disposition of death (justified or other); and whether the decedent exhibited symptoms of mental illness. I do understand that some information, such as symptoms of mental illness may not be explicitly stated, and I don’t ask that anyone try to decide or discern that information. I believe most of the information will be included in a final report for each incident or investigation. Also, I’m willing to recast the request in a way that minimizes work for your agency; just let me know what’s appropriate.

If there are any fees for searching or copying these records, please inform me if the cost will exceed $50. However, I would also like to request a waiver of all fees in that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the different outcomes as related to the differing policies and training of law enforcement officers in different jurisdictions. This information is not being sought for commercial purposes.

If the records I am requesting will take longer than a “reasonable” amount of time, please contact me with information about when I might expect copies or the ability to inspect the requested records.

If you deny any or all of this request, please cite each specific exemption you feel justifies the refusal to release the information and notify me of the appeal procedures available to me under the law.

Thank you,
D. Brian Burghart
Editor/publisher, Reno News & Review

Here’s the first response from Kristy Albrecht, Administrative Assistant, Idaho State Police Headquarters. It’s just a boilerplate telling me they’re going to take up to the 10 days allowed by law to respond to my request.

Here’s the second response to my request, again from Kristy Albrecht. For irony’s sake, please note that while the date is March 31, I received it on April 1. In it, I’m told that my public records request is denied in its entirety because no record was found. Also note, none of the exceptions to the state public records law were checked off–presumably because there was no exception in Idaho State law relevant to my request.

To which I replied, assuming what she put in writing was true:

from: D. Brian Burghart
to: “Albrecht, Kristy”
date: Tue, Apr 1, 2014 at 10:56 AM
subject: Re: Idaho State Police Public Records Request NOC

Thank you!

At this point, to make the reading easier, I’m going to stop including most of the header and footer information. I’ll occasionally include dates, but I’ll make complete documentation available to anyone who wants it. By the way, most of the emails contain this specious confidentiality notice as a footer.

CONFIDENTIALITY NOTICE: This e-mail is intended only for the personal and confidential use of the individual(s) named as recipients (or the employee or agent responsible to deliver it to the intended recipient) and is covered by the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2510-2521. It may contain information that is privileged, confidential and/or protected from disclosure under applicable law including, but not limited to, the attorney client privilege and/or work product doctrine. If you are not the intended recipient of this transmission, please notify the sender immediately by telephone. Do not deliver, distribute or copy this transmission, disclose its contents or take any action in reliance on the information it contains.

A month and a half down the road after the initial denial based on there being no record, on June 20, in doing my regular research, I discovered an incident in which a person was killed by the Idaho State Police, so I sent this message to Ms. Albrecht:

Hi, Kristy,
I’m afraid I can’t figure out how it’s possible that you have no records related to this incident: http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2013/oct/23/idaho-trooper-justified-in-shooting-armed-man/
Would you please explain this?
Thanks,
Brian

Mr. Burghart,
Your original public records request asked for ‘copies of reports that show details regarding incidents of fatal encounters between people and your agency.’ It is impossible for us to compile information on such a broad request. If you have a request regarding a specific case, please resubmit your public records request with information specific to that case and I will be happy to assist you.
Kristy Albrecht
Administrative Assistant
Idaho State Police
Headquarters

Hello Ms. Albrecht,
I don’t think this reply complies with Idaho law, and since some 120 other law enforcement agencies, including several in Idaho, have been able to respond to the request, and not one has claimed “impossibility,” I respectively have trouble understanding how it is impossible for yours. Perhaps if you will describe what’s impossible about it, we can come to some agreement. The point of the request is to determine what incidents and with whom they happened. It’s not a fishing expedition, I’m asking for specific information. Your saying, “You tell us whom we’ve had fatal encounters with and we’ll tell you about them,” is a de facto refusal to provide information.
Thanks, I appreciate your help in this matter,
Brian

On June 26, Kristy Albrecht sent me this new refusal to make public records available. It’s another document, but this time, she claims she’s refusing the request based on the public records exception Idaho Code 9-340C(1). She also cc’d Captain Charlie Spencer, Office of Professional Standards in the Idaho State Police Headquarters, and Stephanie Altig, Lead Deputy Attorney General in Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office.

To which I replied:

Hello Ms. Albrecht, Captain Charlie Spencer, and Deputy Attorney General Stephanie Altig,
At the risk of seeming impertinent and aware of my right to appeal this finding, I’d like request everyone on this email list take a look at the reason stated for the denial of my request for public documents, Idaho Code 9-340C(1). Nowhere on my request did I ask for personnel information, which is the reason listed for its denial. I’ll also attach a copy of the original request, but after the section of the applicable Idaho code, I’ll include the bones of the request. [Editor’s note, read the entire request above.] I’m sure you’ll agree I’m only asking for what the law allows. Incidentally, all other law enforcement agencies headquartered in Ada County were able to satisfy the request with personnel information redacted in accordance with the law.
Thanks,
D. Brian Burghart
9-340C(1) Except as provided in this subsection, all personnel records of a current or former public official other than the public official’s public service or employment history, classification, pay grade and step, longevity, gross salary and salary history, status, workplace and employing agency. All other personnel information relating to a public employee or applicant including, but not limited to, information regarding sex, race, marital status, birth date, home address and telephone number, applications, testing and scoring materials, grievances, correspondence and performance evaluations, shall not be disclosed to the public without the employee’s or applicant’s written consent. Names of applicants to classified or merit system positions shall not be disclosed to the public without the applicant’s written consent. Disclosure of names as part of a background check is permitted. Names of the five (5) final applicants to all other positions shall be available to the public. If such group is less than five (5) finalists, then the entire list of applicants shall be available to the public. A public official or authorized representative may inspect and copy his personnel records, except for material used to screen and test for employment.
Dear Mr. Burghart:
Perhaps I can help clarify. If an ISP officer is involved in an incident that results in a death, the matter is criminally investigated by a different and independent law enforcement agency. That criminal investigation is not in ISP’s possession and should be available through the agency that conducted the criminal investigation, assuming the criminal investigation is closed and any information subject to redaction. See Idaho Code 9-340B(1) and Idaho Code 9-335. After the criminal investigation is completed, and pending resolution of any criminal charges that might have been filed, ISP conducts its own internal investigation to determine whether the officer violated any of the state of Idaho’s statutes and/or administrative rules that govern the conduct of state employees and ISP’s own agency procedures and conduct expectations that apply to ISP employees specifically. This internal investigation is a personnel matter because it could result in some form of discipline being imposed under the Idaho state personnel system, Idaho Code 67-5309(n) and IDAPA 15.04.01.190. Under Idaho’s public records act, personnel information “other than the public official’s public service or employment history, classification, pay grade and step, longevity, gross salary and salary history, status, workplace and employing agency” is exempt from disclosure to the public unless the employee consents in writing. Idaho Code 9-340C(1).
Stephanie A. Altig
Lead Deputy Attorney General
Idaho State Police

From: D. Brian Burghart [mailto:d.brianburghart@gmail.com]
Sent: Thursday, June 26, 2014 2:07 PM
To: Albrecht, Kristy
Cc: Spencer, Charlie; Altig, Stephanie
Thank you, Ms. Altig, for acknowledging that the public has a right to access to some of these documents. I would appreciate copies of any independent investigations conducted by the ISP, as I asked in the original public records request. I would also like copies of the results of any completed external investigations of ISP incidents provided to the ISP.
I get the feeling that somebody over there thinks I’m playing some kind of gotcha journalism strategy. I’m not. All I’m looking for is data by which protocol and results can be compared. If you’d like to see how other Idaho agencies responded to the request–or even how Nevada agencies responded to the same request, since in broad terms our public records laws are very similar, go to http://www.fatalencounters.org/people-search/ and search Idaho and Ada or, for Nevada, Nevada and Washoe or Clark.
In Ada County, if you’ll look at the additional info links, you’ll see that the Ada County Sheriff’s office, for example, chose to create a record that only answered the specific attributes asked for in the records request. https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-l9Ys3cd80fSTN0UzhoREh1dFBDUVR6U2tnYkVWYjNWZ0hz/edit
The Boise Police Department provided redacted whole documents, which was fine, if somewhat expensive: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-l9Ys3cd80fNlp0dVRtNy04d2c/edit
Meridian did as you suggested and provided the outside investigations with redactions. https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B-l9Ys3cd80fRDROZmZwajNwdVU/edit
Neither Garden City nor Fish & Game had incidents to report.
The whole purpose of this is to provide the public with factual information. I’ve collected in the neighborhood of 3,000 of these incidents, although only a bit more than 900 have made it to the database so far. As you can imagine, I find media reports filled with inaccuracies and bias. I’m trying to get the most accurate information, but sometimes for practical purposes, I’m stuck with less.
I don’t have the database searchable by reporting agency yet, but for comparison’s sake, I think the Nevada Department of Public Safety reported nine fatal encounters, although to be accurate, one was a car wreck that had four decedents.
Thank you,
D. Brian Burghart

Altig, Stephanie
Jun 30
Dear Mr. Burghart:
Thank you for your response on Friday, June 27. I met with Capt. Spencer this morning, who in turn met with ISP’s case file database manager. Here is the information Capt. Spencer was able to obtain.
It appears that ISP has responded to 42 (+-) officer-involved shootings since approximately Jan. 1, 2008. That’s as far back as the database tracks cases. There is no indication from the way information is entered whether these shootings were fatal, and it does not identify cases where there may have been some other cause of a fatality, such as a vehicle crash. Capt. Spencer also said that some of ISP’s involvement in these officer-involved shooting were assists to other law enforcement agencies. For enforcement purposes, ISP divides the state of Idaho into six Districts for its patrol and investigations functions. Most of the actual records of these incidents (2008-present) are spread throughout those six districts. Capt. Spencer estimates that it would take approximately two hours to retrieve and review each case file for information that is subject to redaction. The actual time will vary, of course, depending on the size of the files – some of them will have multiple supplements. So, the total number of estimated hours of labor is 84 hours. Under Idaho law, the agency can charge the requestor for the labor to respond to a public records request in excess of two hours (at the hourly rate of the lowest paid employee who is qualified to respond to the request – in this case $15.36 per hour) and may also charge for copies in excess of 100 pages (ISP charges a copy fee of 5 cents per page). Idaho Code 9-338(10). If the agency requires the assistance and/or review by a deputy attorney general, that time will also be charged (first two hours are not charged). Idaho Code 9-338(10)(e). The lowest paid ISP deputy attorney general hourly rate is $29.17. The agency can and will require payment in advance. Idaho Code 9-338(12). Capt. Spencer also advised that some of these files may be stored in Idaho’s historical archives. It is very difficult to estimate how much time it would take to retrieve those files from state archives, examine them to see if they are responsive to your request, redact exempt information, and make the necessary copies.
I want you to know that ISP is absolutely not trying to stonewall you. The problem is that this agency does not keep its files in a way that makes the information you seek readily accessible. The bottom line is that each file would have to be individually identified and examined, redactions done, and copies made – all of which will have to be done manually. If there was any way to make this information available to you short of the manual work that will have to be devoted, I assure you ISP would do so.
Stephanie A. Altig
Lead Deputy Attorney General
Idaho State Police

From: D. Brian Burghart
Sent: Friday, June 27, 2014 12:41 PM
To: Altig, Stephanie
Cc: Spencer, Charlie; Albrecht, Kristy
Thank you, Ms. Altig. Believe me, I don’t think you’re trying to stonewall me. I get that everyone is understaffed and overworked. This type of discussion has happened with almost every agency that I’ve talked to, and Idaho agencies have generally been pretty helpful, especially in comparison to some of the metros I’ve talked to.
My thought is, just a printout of the 42(+-) results from the database query, which I’m guessing would have at least the person injured’s name, date and location of officer-involved shootings would give me enough to work with to further refine my request. Also, it seems most reports I have seen have a summary section, usually 2 or 3 pages that covers pretty much everything I’m looking at. Sometimes it’s all just in the narrative section.
It’s funny. I was just looking at the database to see how close our numbers were, and I noticed that there were two entries for Ross McAbee. One included the information from a news report and the other the information from Ada county. They read like two different incidents, even down to mental state. I guess this illustrates pretty well why I believe it’s important to go to the source documents.
Thanks, for your help on this. I’m sure you didn’t need the headache.

Jun 30
Dear Mr. Burghart:
If ISP has such a list, I assure you it will be sent to you. But please don’t be too disappointed if such a list doesn’t exist short of going through the files manually as I described. I’ll find out and get back to you soon. Thank you for understanding.
Stephanie A. Altig
Lead Deputy Attorney General
Idaho State Police

I guess it should be said, in the face of such stunning intransigence against her legal requirement to provide the documents I asked for, I allowed the ball to drop. I’m supposed to pay her thousands of dollars in advance? I went from a certainty that the Idaho State Police would eventually follow the law to the lead deputy attorney general telling me, “Here is the information Capt. Spencer was able to obtain.
It appears that ISP has responded to 42 (+-) officer-involved shootings since approximately Jan. 1, 2008” to saying “If ISP has such a list, I assure you it will be sent to you,” and then acting as though she didn’t understand her own words and doing nothing.

It’s nothing short of Orwellian. First, the Idaho State Police said I couldn’t have any documents because they didn’t exist. Then, the Idaho State Police said I couldn’t have the documents because they were impossible to retrieve. Then, the Idaho State Police said that I couldn’t have the documents because I’d asked for personnel documents that were an exception to Idaho’s public records laws (despite the fact, I had specifically written in my request that I wasn’t looking for officers’ information). Then, the Idaho State Police said that I could have 42 (+-) documents, which had suddenly become not an exception to Idaho’s public records laws, but only if I was willing to pay more than I’d paid for all records related to officer-involved homicides in the state of Nevada. Then, I was ignored.

I’d suggest that if this is how the Idaho State Police respond to legal requests for information—with the backing of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s office—then I wouldn’t expect a lot of transparency from any level of government in Idaho. The funny thing is, with the exceptions of Idaho State Police and the Idaho Attorney General, all the city, county and state agencies in Ada County were totally willing to work with me to modify the request and get the information out to the public. You can see it for yourself by going to the database and searching “Idaho” then “Ada County.”

Fatal Encounters FAQ

One of the things that is cracking me up as the national media start noticing there’s something happening over here is that they don’t really get what this project is doing. I think they’re pigeonholing me with all those starched-shirt serious journalists who can talk in grave tones and detailed factoids about their work. If not that, they think I’m some kind of expert in police violence or even a lawyer–an expert on Capitol Hill shenanigans. I’m not. I am an expert on this information, not on cops or police violence. I’m an expert on journalism and public records because I’ve done it and taught it for more than 20 years, and now I’m becoming an expert on crowdsourcing journalism.

I’m more like the person who’s writing the book than the author who has written a book. I’m just one guy who is trying to do what mainstream media and government refused to do, collect this important information for the American public.

I am becoming an expert in a particular area of police violence, fatal use of deadly force–a little bit–but I’m not going to write the book until the project in the Reno News & Review is complete.

Fatal Encounters did start out as an almost pure investigative and data journalism project. It was going to be based entirely on public documents that were crowdsoourced using the database of all the state and local law enforcement agencies that I created on the site. People are still doing that, for example, just this week a lawyer in Texas sent out public records requests to all 1,913 agencies in Texas. Another guy is handling Kansas.

But when law enforcement set up so many delays, I created the webform for article submissions. That brought in the crowdsourcing of data from published reports.

And then when the site started taking off, people started doing occasional in-person reporting—witness stuff, or things people they talked to said. I haven’t figured out how to work this into the database, but I’m saving it all.

And once I started accumulating real numbers, volunteers started popping up, creating visualizations and more sophisticated maps. Here’s one :http://ow.ly/AXX79

I take no ownership of this data, and I’ve freely given it to anyone who wants to use it for any reason, as long as they understand how young and incomplete the database is. Today, there are about 1,300 incidents in it from January 1, 2000 through today’s date. By Saturday or so, there will be 2,000 fact-checked killings. I believe the total number is more than 17,000. I just started the crowdsourcing aspect in March, so we’re just beginning.

So, in a nutshell, Fatal Enounters is an effort to create a database using crowdsourced data, crowdsourced reporting, crowdsourced analysis and crowdsourced presentation in what I think must be one of the largest crowdsourced journalism projects in history.