The decision Monday not to indict an Ohio police officer in 2014 death of a 12-year-old who had a pellet gun has some people asking whether police officers are held to a different, more forgiving, standard when it comes to fatal shootings.
Cuyahoga County prosecutor Tim McGinty announced Monday that an Ohio grand jury had decided not to indict police officers Timothy Loehmann and Frank Garmback in the shooting of Tamir Rice, saying the what happened the day Rice was killed was a “perfect storm of human error, mistakes and communications by all involved … and did not indicate criminal conduct by police.”
Two outside investigators had previously concluded that the shooting of Tamir was "reasonable."
Rice’s case, along with cases of others such as Walter Scott -- who was shot in the back after a traffic stop in South Carolina in April -- and Samuel DuBose -- who was shot in the head in July after he was stopped for not having a license tag -- have garnered national attention in 2015, and led to questions about if and how on-duty police officers are held responsible for their actions.
The numbers from 2015 seem to point to a shift in the assumption that officers are never held accountable in a shooting that ends someone’s life. This year, more than three times the number of officers than in previous years have been indicted for manslaughter or murder following a fatal, on-duty shooting.
Some have suggested the existence of videos that record the circumstances surrounding a shooting have forced prosecutors’ hands when it comes to charging police officers.
Adding to the task of determining if justice is fairly applied is the fact that the FBI does not require law enforcement agencies to report “justifiable homicides” committed by officers while in the line of duty. The FBI instead runs a voluntary program that allows law enforcement agencies to choose whether to submit their annual count of justifiable homicides.
The FBI considers a justifiable homicide as “the killing of a felon in the line of duty."
This year there have been 18 cases brought against police officers who fatally shot someone while on duty. Of those cases, 10 have included video evidence, something those who have studied police use of deadly force say likely makes the difference in the numbers.
“If you take the cases with the video away, you are left with what we would expect to see over the past 10 years – about five cases,” Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University who was quoted by the Associated Press in a story last week.
“You have to wonder if there would have been charges if there wasn’t video evidence.”
Whether more shooting incidents are being better investigated or more people are seeing what happens when officers confront the public, the spotlight has shifted to examining how officers interact with the public they serve.
Here are some numbers that paint a picture of the people who were shot and killed by law enforcement in 2015
1126 people have been killed by police in the United States in 2015, according to a project from The Guardian. Of those:
- 567 were white
- 292 were black
- 52 were women
- 1073 were men
Information from other sources includes:
- 18 police officers have been indicted in fatal shootings in 2015, more than three times as many as the average of previous years (5)
- Half of the 2015 indictments stemmed from shootings that took place this year, the other half date back to shootings that happened as far as 2011.
- In 10 of the 2015 cases which led to indictments, prosecutors had a video record of the shooting
- 75 percent of the fatal shootings happened when police were under attack or defending someone who was, the Washington Post reported
- 54 police officers were indicted in fatal shootings between 2005 to 2014
- 11 officers were convicted in those fatal shootings
- 36 officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty this year
Sources: The Washington Post; The Guardian; The Associated Press; Pro Publica;