Los Angeles

Officer-Involved Shootings Difficult to Track Nationwide

Nationwide, police shootings are coming under greater scrutiny than ever, with activists claiming the number of fatal officer-involved shootings is on the rise in cities big and small.

But many in law enforcement say that simply isn’t true.

So who’s right? The answer to that is where things get really muddy.

Unlike homicides that involve average residents, the FBI doesn’t keep statistics on deadly shootings that involve someone wearing a badge while serving in their official duties.

Most local agencies keep track of what happens, but reporting can often be delayed while an incident is being reviewed by an oversight board.

That, and the secrecy that surrounds most investigations into officer-involved shootings, can frustrate nearly everyone involved, from the families whose loved ones have been lost to an altercation with police, police officers to civil rights activists advocating for change to policing standards.

Rukhsana Chaudry said a fraction of a second can forever change the life of the family members left behind.

“I thought, 'The world is over for me,'” she said of finding out that her son, Usman, had been killed during a confrontation with an LAPD officer in 2008.

The shooting was found to be within department policy, so the officer was never prosecuted and few details of the incident were publicly released.

That frustrates Chaudry’s father.

“Is there any justice in this world? We need justice for him,” said Mohammad Chaudry.

Families like the Chaudrys feel like they are led to believe their loved ones lives matter less.

But police often say such incidents are taken out of context.

In the blink of an eye, everything can change, and in an era where smartphone video is often taken of some part of every incident, officers believe those recordings often miss key moments.

The public never learns what led up to the encounter, the part before the gunshot.

“It goes from zero to 100, just like that,” said LAPD Det. Jamie McBride.

A decorated veteran, McBride was involved in six shootings in his 25 year career.
“My last shooting, I remember looking down,” McBride said. “I saw the muzzle flash and I remember telling myself, 'You are going to get shot. Just keep pulling the trigger.’ Which is something you learn in the academy — officer survival.”

McBride said there are also other facts known to officers before the altercation, such as the person’s prior criminal records, whether he or she has been prone to violence in the past.

“Did they just commit a robbery? Are they wanted for murder?,” he said.

That information could color how an officer perceives the threat, he said.

“There have even been people who reach for their waistband, and it turns out they didn't have a gun. And they get shot by the officer because the officer perceived a threat,” he said.

But get that part wrong, said McBride, and the cop, or his or her partner, may not go home alive.

McBride said that prosecuting officers for shootings in the line of duty could also put them in jeopardy.

“No officer wants to use his or her gun to take somebody's life,” McBride said.

McBride said officer-involved shootings are making more headlines because there are more cameras, not more police shootings.

Civil rights attorneys like Olu Orange argue, though, that the standards need to change.

“It’s unacceptable,” he said. “It seems that officers are now shooting and killing people based on what they don't know.”

He said that disobeying an officer does not mean a shooting is warranted.

“If you are doing something that the officer's not telling you to do, it still doesn't mean he gets to kill you.”

Orange said police are being trained to shoot in reaction to threats, not actual weapons.

“Prosecute these officers. Prosecute these officers when they kill somebody.”

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