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JournalistWe’re the Florida reporters who looked into 827 state police shootings and tried to explain WHY COPS SHOOT. We created an online database for you to explore. Ask us anything

Apr 10th 2017 by NeilBedi • 8 Questions • 380 Points

Our short bio: We’re Ben Montgomery and Neil Bedi, reporters at the Tampa Bay Times. We just published a project studying six years of Florida police shootings. Our main story looked into the different circumstances that led to the 827 shootings and ways to avoid the violence. A separate interactive story looked at the least violent people shot and the racial breakdowns of specific questionable circumstances. We have videos looking at specific cases the main story dives into. And, for PROOF, we published a database of every case, and built it so each one is treated as its own story.

Handles:

  • /u/BenjiMontgomery - Reporter
  • /u/NeilBedi - Reporter/Web developer (Connie Humburg, our database expert will also be available to answer though one of us)

Proof

Q:

Compliance with law enforcement used to be based on an expectation that from that point on, one would be treated less aggressively. What actually happens is not necessarily that, but often the person is treated with greater - and even punitive - aggression.

Maybe it is time for some of that legal precedent to be overturned.

A:

This video and the piece in the story on Mike Chitwood is somewhat relevant and fascinating.


Q:

LE does, based mostly on drivers license info.

Three of 827 were Asian.

A:

Quick add from Connie: if we did find out that someone was Hispanic from another source, we did mark them as Hispanic. But Ben is right that there are inconsistencies with how agencies track it and they are our first source.


Q:

Yes this is very common in Hispanic communities when it comes to self reporting.

A:

Good question! So 128 Hispanics were shot, the third most and they did factor into some of the circumstances that we tracked.

But, when we were looking at violent and nonviolent/questionable circumstances, the main story started to focus on the fact that violent circumstances leaned more white and nonviolent leaned more black. The Hispanic group did not factor into nearly as many circumstances as our black and white groups.

For these interactives to hit the most readers we have to work hard to keep the stories as lean and focused as possible. Our main goal was to show that we had these almost equal shares of white and black people being shot but they were shot in very different ways.


Q:

I wasn't angling toward not going back to jail concerns, but if some of them blame law enforcement and the judicial system for their problems, and this was their basis for rationalizing the use of LEs as their 'weapon' of suicide.

In those more mentally stable people that would do this, I suspect shame and a fear of lack of constitution to commit would play a role in chosing 'suicide by cop'.

A:

Maybe, I'm saying this a lot but all of these cases, even under a single circumstance are so so different. Our database allows you to search specifically for suicide by cop cases (under mental health in the search bar) which might give you a better idea of what's going on.


Q:

Thanks for doing this, folks. This is James Brooks, the state reporter for the Juneau Empire in Alaska. Since I read the story, I've been wondering how to go about doing the same thing here, so I wanted to ask about the nuts-and-bolts behind it all.

Did you simply FOIA each LE agency in the state? How did you deal with a refusal or delay? If I were to try to duplicate this effort for Alaska, what advice would you give?

A:

Pretty much. It helps that Florida has great open records laws. We did take two years to collect all the data and I wasn't here during that (Ben will probably have more to say). I know some reporters helping us out had to be pretty persistent anytime we knew there was shooting but agencies wouldn't respond. (Persistence works a little better when there are good open records laws to back you up)

Here's our methodology page for more: http://www.tampabay.com/projects/2017/investigations/florida-police-shootings/about-this-project-methodology/


Q:

That helps clarify a great deal.

Edit: Well, maybe not as much as I thought. In the methodology, it describes 'injured an officer with a vehicle' as:

Police said person hit a cop with their vehicle during confrontation.

Being 'hit' implies driven at, not dragged by.

A:

Hmm that's fair, let me check with Connie about that. Thanks for noticing!


Q:

I'm hoping these discussions will result in a refinement of results. The best solutions come from the best understandings of the problem.

Perhaps "Police said person injured an officer by means of a vehicle during a confrontation." would work. Might not fit as gracefully in the CSS.

Edit: How long did this study take?

A:

We will post an edit soon.

We tried to make our definitions easy to understand but introduced "hit" at some point. I think the CSS should handle something very similar to your suggestion though. (Thanks again!)


Q:

What makes you laugh?

A:

Bob's Burgers.