Once or twice a year, the Louisville Metro Police Department releases data on incidents when an LMPD officer fired their weapon or was fired upon.
It’s a step towards transparency that many other police departments have not taken; however, the most recent report contains several omissions and errors that policing experts say limit the dataset’s usefulness.
The report, dated June 10, includes an entry for the shooting death of Breonna Taylor, but her name is not in it. Two men shot by police this month, David McAtee and another man they haven’t named, are also left out, though the new report was issued because LMPD officers were involved in new shootings. Three individuals killed by LMPD in 2018 are also omitted from the update.
The analysis inaccurately indicates that no police shootings occurred over an eight-year period, skewing the 3.7-a-year average of shootings it claims. It also includes those years in its assessment that shootings result from 0.00002% of LMPD’s citizen contacts.
Representatives from LMPD and the mayor’s office have not responded to questions submitted Monday about the database.
David Harris, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, says the report from LMPD is a step in the right direction, despite its flaws, and he applauds LMPD for releasing some information.
No national database of police shootings currently exists. The Washington Post and the Guardian maintain databases of fatal police shootings, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation has created a voluntary program to collect data on use of force by police officers.
But the irregularities in LMPD’s report underscore the need for a national standard for collecting data about police shootings, Harris said, so that the public can better understand one of the most extreme powers of government.
“The public quite simply has a right to know when agents of the Commonwealth of Kentucky are using, or attempting to use, deadly force on its citizens,” Harris said. “We should know that, as members of the public. Here we are as Americans walking around essentially blind to this problem until [media] step into the breach.”
The LMPD issued the latest report on its website after nearly two weeks of widespread protests prompted by the death of Taylor, a 26-year-old Black woman shot and killed by plain-clothes detectives serving a no-knock warrant at her apartment. The report also came 10 days after law enforcement shot and killed McAtee at his barbecue stand in the West End.
Over the last two weeks, the refrain from protesters has been, “Say her name: Breonna Taylor.” After McAtee’s death, protesters began chanting his name as well. Neither is named in this data.
Database Structure Could Obscure Hurt Bystanders
The report includes a database of police shootings going back to 2011. Entries detail the name, race and sex of the suspect and officers involved, and a narrative description of the event. None of the columns indicate if the suspect was the same person who shot at — or was shot by — police.
The narrative for March 13 says that officers executing a search warrant “were met by gunfire from within the residence.”
“Multiple officers returned fire. One subject was taken into custody and another subject was killed during the incident,” it said.
Kenneth Walker is the named suspect, and he told police he fired the shot that hit one detective in the leg. He was not shot when police returned fire. Taylor, the person killed in the police shooting, is not named.
Harris said it appears the database is structured to focus on the individual who is the target of enforcement. He said structuring the data this way isn’t necessarily a problem, but it could gloss over key information when a bystander is killed.
“If you key your data to the target of your enforcement and somebody else is killed, you are going to lose information that’s important — not the least of which is the fact that a different person was killed,” Harris said. “That, in itself, is an important piece of data.”
That’s similar to the circumstances of Taylor’s case. Walker said he believed they were being robbed when he shot at plain-clothes officers entering the dark apartment in the middle of the night. Taylor, who had been sleeping, was killed in the hallway. Walker was initially charged with attempted murder and assault, but Commonwealth’s Attorney Tom Wine announced late last month he was dropping the charges, pending further investigation by the FBI and Kentucky Attorney General’s office.
The LMPD report is dated the day after the agency released a nearly blank, inaccurate incident report that listed Taylor’s injuries as “none.” LMPD later issued a statement saying the inaccuracies were due to a problem with the reporting program that created the file.
Missing Cases And Rise In Police Shootings
The report also includes statistical data on shootings by month and year, going back to 2003.
This data says no “officer-involved shooting” cases were opened from 2003-10, though a KyCIR review of media reports found LMPD officers shot at least 10 people in those years.
LMPD’s report would indicate that its officers have been involved in 68 shootings since 2003. Nearly half of the shootings in that timeframe have occurred since 2018.
It breaks the number of shootings out by division, though it’s unclear if that reflects where the shooting occurred or which personnel was involved.
The suspect was Black in 63% of those shootings, according to the report.
John DeCarlo is a professor at the University of New Haven and former police chief of the Branford Police Department.
DeCarlo said that gap from 2003 to 2010 could skew any analysis of the data. But, DeCarlo said, the data LMPD has released after 2011 clearly shows a rise in police shootings in recent years.
“What we are seeing is this big spike, and you have to ask yourself why. Why is it going up?” DeCarlo said.
Last year, LMPD said it opened investigations into 16 incidents where an officer shot at suspects or was shot at, the highest number by far since 2011. So far this year, LMPD has already recorded eight police shootings.
DeCarlo said police departments should collect more data and use the information they have to determine why shootings appear to be on the rise in Louisville.
“Any transparency is certainly a step in the right direction. The US as a whole is way behind the data curve,” DeCarlo said. “Police are the only organization in the United States that can not only take away your freedom, but use lethal force on you.”
According to LMPD’s report, internal investigations are still open for at least 37 shootings. But the data omits several cases.
In Likely Formatting Error, Some Deaths Left Out
Three people killed by LMPD in 2018 were not included in LMPD’s most recent database report.
In February 2018, LMPD officers shot and killed two men riding in a car after someone in the car shot at police. Billy Ray Riggs and Alexander Simpson were killed in the shooting, but only Simpson is included in the database.
Benjamin Kennedy was killed after firing at LMPD officers in November 2018 and is not on the list.
Raad Fakhri Salman, who was killed in July 2018, is also not included.
Salman and Kennedy were included in previous versions of the report, including one released in May.
LMPD didn’t respond to questions about it, but it appears those names may have been left off during the conversion process. These cases were the last on the list in 2018, and the June 10 report is the first LMPD released in a PDF format instead of an Excel spreadsheet.
LMPD’s report includes eight police shootings so far this year, but only included the narratives for six.
The narrative description of the June 1 shooting of David McAtee is not included in the report. Two LMPD officers and two Kentucky National Guard members shot at McAtee when they went to 26th and Broadway to break up a crowd violating curfew. Police said McAtee shot at officers; the LMPD officers who shot back did not activate their body cameras, in violation of LMPD policy.
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer fired then-LMPD Chief Steve Conrad following the news that there were no body cameras. The investigation determined a National Guard member fired the round that killed McAtee.
Louisville police shot another person the next day: an armed 25-year-old white man in the East End, after he appeared to reach for a gun. LMPD has not yet named the man, and that narrative is also not included in the report. He survived the shooting.
Harris, the University of Pittsburgh professor, says even if these omissions are the result of an honest mistake, they undercut the usefulness of reporting data in the first place.
“It’s good that they are doing this, but it could certainly be more useful and you don’t want it to hide things, even if that’s completely inadvertent,” Harris said. “If the objective here is to be transparent and to inform your community, you don’t want to have the list broken out in a way that does that even if that’s not intended.”
Contact Jared Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org.