Texas shootings in context

I’ve been asked to share data on Texas police shootings at the upcoming MEASURE Austin conference and with advocacy organizations in Austin. Here is the report I’m sharing:


Shootings by and of Texas law enforcement officers, 2015 – present

Two years ago, Texas lawmakers passed a law that made the state one of the most transparent in the country in tracking officer-involved shootings. Each time an officer shoots a person or is shot – whether on or off duty – the agency has 30 days to file a single-page form with demographic, geographic and other basic information on the case with the Office of the Attorney General. The reports started appearing on the OAG’s website in September of 2015, just as I was taking a data journalism class in my master’s program. I started a spreadsheet to record the shootings and have tracked them since. These reports also allowed me to identify cases involving unarmed people, which were the basis for my investigative journalism series called Point of Impact.

Below is an analysis of the database, which contains two years of data on shootings of and by officers. This analysis is based on shootings reported to the state from Sept. 1, 2015 to Oct. 15, 2017. While it is a complete look at the reports filed with the state, I must caution that even this data set may be incomplete. Until recently, departments that failed to file their reports on time were not punished; the law was tweaked in 2017 so that they are now fined for noncompliance if they are caught and ignore reminders to file. It is up to the users of this data to provide oversight, and in February, I compared the database with custodial death reports to determine that 12 fatal shootings hadn’t been properly reported to the state. They were filed soon after.

National data on officer-involved shootings is scarce and not dependable in many cases. One collection, which was administered by the Bureau of Justice Statistics through their Arrest-Related Deaths program, was suspended and redesigned after being found to significantly undercount fatalities. The BJS’ 2015 technical report found that the annual reported average of 452.5 fatal shootings by police represented, at best, 49% of the actual shootings; therefore, in my analysis below I use the conservative national estimated annual average of 920 fatal officer-involved shootings.

Table 1: By severity and armed/unarmed

Based on my analysis of the OAG’s “Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports” filed since Sept. 1, 2015, 17.5% of the individuals shot by law enforcement in Texas were unarmed.

Armed Unarmed Total
Death 151 19 170
Injury 141 43 184
Total 292 62 354

DATA SOURCE: Texas OAG’s Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports, filed Sept. 1, 2015 – Oct. 15, 2017

Table 2: By year and severity

I analyzed the data collected from the OAG’s “Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports” in two, 12-month increments to determine the average number of shootings by Texas law enforcement each year. Not included in the average: eight shootings since Sept. 1, 2017 (3 killed, 5 injured).

Killed Injured Total
Sept. 1, 2015 – Aug. 31, 2016 79 97 176
Sept. 1, 2016 – Aug. 31, 2017 88 82 170
Annual Average 83.5 89.5

DATA SOURCE: Texas OAG’s Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports, filed Sept. 1, 2015 – Oct. 15, 2017

Table 3: Fatal police shootings in comparison

Using the annual average of fatal shootings by police from Table 2, I calculated Texas’ rate of fatal shootings per 1 million people and compared that to a conservative national average.

Population Average Shootings/Year Rate Per 1 Million
Texas 27,862,596 83.5 3
U.S. 323,127,513 920 2.85

DATA SOURCES: Texas – U.S. Census Bureau 2016 estimate (population); Texas OAG’s Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports, Sept. 1, 2015 – Oct. 15, 2017 (average shootings/year). U.S. Population – U.S. Census Bureau 2016 estimate (population); Low average from Bureau of Justice Statistics’ RTI International survey (average shootings/year).

Table 4: Fatal Police Shootings by city of incident

I analyzed the data collected from the OAG’s “Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports” on fatal shootings by the location of the shooting.

Population Average Shootings/Year Rate Per 1 Million Population
Austin 947,890 5 5.3
Houston 2,303,482 11 4.8
San Antonio 1,492,510 7 4.7
Los Angeles, CA 3,792,621 15.7 4.1
Dallas 1,317,929 4.5 3.4
El Paso 683,080 1 1.2
Fort Worth 854,113 1 1.2

DATA SOURCES: Texas cities – U.S. Census Bureau 2016 estimate (population); Texas OAG’s Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports, Sept. 1, 2015 – Oct. 15, 2017 (average shootings/year). Los Angeles – U.S. Census Bureau 2016 estimate (population); Los Angeles Times, 2000-2014 (average shootings/year)

Note on location: In Austin and El Paso, those police departments were responsible for all of the included fatal shootings. Shootings in Houston involved Houston PD, Harris County Sheriff’s Office and Harris County constables. Shootings in San Antonio involved San Antonio PD, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bexar County constables. Shootings in Dallas involved Dallas PD, Forney PD, Mesquite PD, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office. Shootings in Fort Worth involved the Fort Worth PD and Weatherford PD.

Table 5: Texas officers killed by gunfire

I analyzed the data collected from the OAG’s “Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports,” which I also checked against the Officer Down Memorial Page’s Texas line-of-duty deaths, to come up with a rate of officer killings.

Average police killings Texas police officer census Rate per 100,000 officers
4 77,207 5.2

DATA SOURCES: Officer Down Memorial Page fatal shootings in Texas, 2010-2017 (average); Texas OAG’s Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports, filed Sept. 1, 2015 – Oct. 15, 2017; Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (census)

Figure 1: I analyzed the data collected from the OAG’s “Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports” based on demographics and compared the demographics of individuals fatally shot by law enforcement to the Texas general population.

DATA SOURCES: Texas Police Killings – Texas OAG’s Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports, filed Sept. 1, 2015 – Oct. 15, 2017. Texas Population – U.S. Census Bureau 2016 estimate

Figure 2: Texas officers killed in the line of duty, 2010-2017

I analyzed the data collected from the OAG’s “Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports” and the Officer Down Memorial Page’s Texas line-of-duty deaths database to determine how many police deaths are caused by gunfire. Other causes of death include crashes, drownings, assaults and on-duty heart attacks.

DATA SOURCE: Officer Down Memorial Page fatal shootings in Texas, 2010-2017; Texas OAG’s Peace Officer-Involved Shooting Reports, filed Sept. 1, 2015 – Oct. 15, 2017.

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