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Does Dallas have fewest police shootings in America? Impossible to tell
The morning after the ambush killing of five Dallas police officers, Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said the police department has cultivated positive relationships with the Dallas community.
The agency, he said, has trained in de-escalating encounters and community policing.
"I want to brag just for a second if anybody hasn't heard us say this," he said at a news conference July 8. "This year, we have the fewest police officer-related shootings than any large city in America."
Rawlings made a similar claim on MSNBC’s Morning Joe that same day. Even though his statement is unclear, a spokesperson confirmed the mayor was referring to shootings by, not directed at, officers.
We wanted to know if there was support for his statement.
The best data we have suggests the mayor might be right, but we can’t know for sure.
No nationwide data
There is a major stumbling block with claims like these: There is no national database of police shootings.
The FBI does collect some data on justifiable homicides by law enforcement, but it’s not broken down to the city level. The agency also issues a Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted report, but it only goes up to 2014 (and it doesn’t cover people killed or wounded by officers).
To make matters more complicated, the FBI’s numbers are provided voluntarily by law enforcement agencies. (Only a small fraction of the 18,000 agencies who voluntarily participate in the program provide deadly force data.)
"Some cities would only report certain types of shootings," said Jonathan Maskaly, a criminology professor at the University of Texas at Dallas. "Others would report everything. Cities with problems would tend to obfuscate."
Maskaly said verifying Rawlings’ claim — especially the "all large cities" component — is difficult without a comprehensive database.
That said, we were able to find officer-related shooting data for specific police departments, as well as documentation of lethal force from media sources. These accounts, while limited, do show Dallas has a low number of shootings by police compared to other cities.
Dallas vs. the rest of Texas
The Washington Post tracks fatal police shootings nationwide, as does The Guardian. Both recorded the same incidents — five lethal shootings in Dallas in 2015, and one in 2016.
A Dallas Police Department spokesperson pointed us to online officer-involved shooting data. The department’s "officer-involved shooting" data included lethal shots, shots that injured, and shots that missed. As a result of the broader parameters, the police department’s data shows 11 shootings in 2015, but still just one for 2016.
There’s just one problem — the one shooting the newspapers found in 2016 is different from the one in Dallas’ data. The Guardian and Post included a shooting by a Mesquite Police Department officer in Dallas, whereas the police department data only counts its own officers.
We did our own count using these three sources plus a Google News search. The result revealed one additional shooting by a Dallas officer.
The numbers vary depending on if the data includes shootings by non-Dallas police officers that happened in Dallas (such as by the Mesquite Police Department) or just those by Dallas officers. Including non-DPD officers, there were 12 officer-involved shootings in Dallas in 2015 and three in 2016.
Counting only the Dallas Police Department, however, there were 11 in 2015 and two in 2016. This is what Rawlings was referring to.
What about other major Texas cities? We defined "large city" using the Census Bureau, looking at cities comparable to Dallas’ estimated 1.28 million people.
Houston had 16 officer-involved shootings this year and 32 in 2015. San Antonio police reported five such incidents in 2016.
Austin didn’t have available data, but an April news report counted five officer-involved 2016 shootings by the Austin Police Department as of that time.
In total, there were two police-related shootings by Dallas police in 2016 — less than Houston, San Antonio and Austin.
A broader look
Rawlings said Dallas had fewer officer-related shootings than "any large city" in 2016, not just any large Texas city. So we looked around the country to see if any large departments reported fewer than the two police-related shootings we found by Dallas police.
Data for the San Diego Police Department, captured by the county district attorney, show eight officer-involved shootings in 2015. We spoke to a county spokesperson, who told us there were three officer-involved shootings by the San Diego police in 2016.
Officers of the Los Angeles Police Department shot 38 people in 2015. Data for 2016 wasn’t available, but scrolling through the LAPD’s press releases, we counted 11 officer-involved shootings.
We also counted six officer-involved shootings in Las Vegas in 2016, at least 24 in 2015 for Chicago, and 21 in Phoenix for 2014.
The list of "large cities" could go on indefinitely, and there is no guarantee we wouldn’t eventually find one with less than the two officer-involved shootings from Dallas police.
To keep it simple, we checked eight cities in addition to Dallas — including San Antonio, Houston, Austin, San Diego, Los Angeles, Chicago, Las Vegas and Phoenix. From what we could find, Dallas police had the lowest number (two) of officer-involved shootings in 2016.
Experts agreed that Dallas had a low number of officer-involved shootings compared to other cities.
"If the data is correct — I would agree that Dallas has a low number of police shootings especially when compared with similar size cities," said David Hurley, assistant professor of criminal justice at Texas A&M University.
However, counting the number of police shootings is the wrong metric to consider, said John Worrall, professor of criminology at the University of Texas at Dallas.
He and Maskaly both pointed to shootings-per-officer or shootings-per-capita as more informative measure. However, there is no available data for strictly 2016 on that point.
The Better Government Association published a July 2015 study of fatal police shootings in major cities between 2010-2014. Looking at that data, which is compiled via public records requests from police departments, Dallas had 34, more than San Antonio (28), San Diego (17) and San Jose (11).
Dallas also had higher fatal shootings-per-capita than several cities during that period, including those with more fatal shootings overall such as Chicago and New York City.
Mayor Rawlings said Dallas had fewer officer-related shootings in 2016 than any other large city.
There is no national database to compare Dallas with every single other large metropolitan area, so it is nearly impossible to verify that side of the claim. However, numerous sources suggest Dallas does, in fact, have a low number of officer-involved shootings compared to cities of similar sizes with available data.
For that reason, we rate Rawlings’ statement Half True.
Editor's note: This fact-check was updated July 13 with correct information from the San Diego Police Department to show three police-involved shootings for 2016, not two as originally reported.
"Dallas Mayor and Police Chief Press Conference 7/8/16," President Donald J. Clinton’s YouTube channel, July 8, 2016
PolitiFact, "Are deaths from police shootings the highest in 20 years," December 3, 2014
Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Expanded Homicide Data Table 14."
Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed."
Federal Bureau of Investigation, "Preliminary Semiannual Uniform Crime Report, January-June, 2015."
Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Data Collection: Arrest-Related Deaths."
Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Data Collection: Police-Public Contact Survey (PPCS)."
The Washington Post, "Fatal Force," accessed July 8, 2016
The Guardian, "The Counted," accessed July 8, 2016
Dallas Police Department," Message from The Chief of Police," accessed July 8, 2016
The City of Houston," Officer Involved Shootings," accessed July 8, 2016
City of San Antonio, "Officer Involved Injuries Or Death Caused By The Discharge of A Firearm," accessed July 8, 2016
Time Warner Cable News," 5 Austin PD Officer-Involved Shootings in 2016 Have Left 3 Dead, 3 Injured," April 24, 2016
San Diego County District Attorney," Officer Involved Shootings," accessed July 8, 2016
NPR, "LAPD Reports Shooting 38 People in 2015; A Third Of Cases Involved Mental Illness," March 2, 2016
Los Angeles Police Department, "Newsroom," accessed July 8, 2016
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, "Non-Fatal Officer Involved Shootings," accessed July 8, 2016
Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, "Officer Involved Shootings," accessed July 8, 2016
Chicago Tribune, "Data: IPRA data of Chicago police officer-involved shootings," December 4, 2015
ABC News, "Officer-Involved Shootings in Phoenix."
Better Government Association, "Fatal Shootings By Chicago Police: Tops Among Biggest U.S. Cities," July 26, 2015
Phone and email interviews with Jonathan Maskaly, assistant professor of criminology at the University of Texas-Dallas," July 8, 2016
Email interview with David Hurley, assistant professor of sociology and criminal justice at Texas A&M University, July 8, 2016
Email Interview with John Worrall, professor of criminology at the University of Texas-Dallas, July 8, 2016
Phone interview with Senior Corporal DeMarquis Black of the Dallas Police Department, July 11, 2016
Email response from Scott Goldstein, chief of policy and communications at the Dallas Police Department, July 11, 2016
Email interview with Darrel Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, July 11, 2016
Email interview with Steve Walker, special assistant at the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, July 11, 2016
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