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Police Chief Magazine


Ferguson. Baltimore. Louisville. Minneapolis. Deadly police-civilian encounters over the past decade in these and other U.S. cities have launched presidential task forces and sparked protests, riots, and in some cases, retaliatory violence against officers (e.g., Dallas). Yet shockingly, there still isn’t a comprehensive, official dataset that tracks the use of deadly force by police officers. The absence of such a dataset seems absurd, given the widespread ability to track other information like current employment statistics or when a package will arrive at the recipient’s doorstep. The absence of such a dataset makes it too easy for people with large platforms to spread misinformation about police use of deadly force. Finally, the absence of such a dataset diminishes trust in the police and hinders law enforcement’s ability to identify patterns and strive to make police-civilian encounters safer for both officers and civilians.

However, while no official dataset exists, several unofficial databases have been created in the past decade by journalists, advocacy groups, and curious civilians. These datasets are routinely analyzed by academic researchers and cited (sometimes exploited) by journalists, activists, and politicians. While the existence of more comprehensive data is a refreshing change from what existed just 10 years ago, it has presented some new challenges.


This article was published by Police Chief Magazine online in there Bonus Online Articles section and can be accessed at

Working title: Making Sense of Unofficial Databases that Track Police-Involvement in Civilian Deaths.

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