A Reno journalist estimates he has completed about 60 percent of a research project that lists law enforcement interactions that end in fatalities.
The database lists nearly 14,300 verified deaths nationwide since 2000.
D. Brian Burghart says he started his research in 2012, after driving by the site of an officer-involved shooting. He wondered how common law-enforcement-related fatalities were.
"I realized pretty quickly I couldn't find that information. I mean, national stories would have no context like that. Local stories would have no context," he says. "So, I went to the FBI uniform crime report. They had justifiable homicides that they published every year."
But, he found the FBI data was incomplete, in part because it was based on voluntary submissions from police and sheriffs departments across the country.
That's when he created fatalencounters.org.
"I had no idea what I was going to find out," he says. "In fact, it changed as I was doing it. For example, I realized that a huge percentage of the time, the death would be legally justified. So, I put a column for that. I realized that a huge percentage of the time, the person being killed by police was mentally ill, so I put a column for that."
The site lists deaths from all causes including firearms, suicides, drug overdoses, and asphyxiation of people after contact with law enforcement.
He says the older cases are the hardest to verify, "Back in the early 2000's, before cloud computing sort of existed, news organizations regularly purged their files because memory was expensive. We know the data gets spottier the farther back we go."
Burghart says, besides the 14,000 verified deaths, there are an additional 8,000 reports of incidents dating back to the year 2000 that have not yet been verified.
He is a former editor of the Reno News and Review and is an occasional instructor at the University of Nevada-Reno.
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