Justified police shootings swept under the rug

© Eduardo Munoz
Despite scrutiny over use of lethal force, dozens of police killings are being ruled as justified without public knowledge. The lack of transparency is troubling – especially for the families of victims whose deaths remain unresolved for years later.

The first three months of 2015 saw 289 people die by police lethal force, according to the Guardian. The Counted, a Guardian project to monitor police killings and subsequent investigation results, found that 202 of those cases were ruled justified or accidental.

However, 51 of these justified killings involved no public statements or local media reports.

So how do the results of some police killings end up front page news while others are lucky to receive little more than local coverage?

The Guardian found that multiple prosecutors chose not to inform the public of the outcome in some cases. William Lee Hon, district attorney in Polk County, Texas, explained to the Guardian that there is no policy on announcements.

Depending upon the level of public and media interest, we may or may not send out a release,” he said.

Perhaps even more troubling are the cases stuck in limbo – leaving the families of victims waiting for an answer. It has been over a year now, but 71 cases from January to March 2015 are still being investigated, or the authorities involved declined to give details of developments. While this may be frustrating for journalists trying to follow these stories, it is even more frustrating for the family members of disputed police shootings.

Despite the problems faced with lethal force, there are signs of a sea change taking place. So far, 10 police officers have been charged with crimes related to deaths in the first quarter of 2015.

Los Angeles police officer Clifford Proctor is now facing charges related to the death of Brendon Glenn, a homeless 29-year-old. Proctor cited self-defense and claimed that Glenn was reaching for his partner’s gun, but video footage proved this to be inaccurate.

This marks the first time in 15 years that a shooting has been labelled unjustified by the Los Angeles Police Department.

The troubles with transparency in regards to police shootings are numerous. The Department of Justice and the FBI have both been forced to improve their methods of getting information. Until December, the FBI was relying on voluntary officer reports to gather information on lethal force. Only 3 percent of law enforcement agencies regularly handed over this information to the FBI, according to Techdirt. In addition, the number of reported police killings was half of those reported by journalists and watchdogs.

The Department of Justice was prompted by the Counted to change their methodology for gathering data as well.