Jim Fisher, a retired FBI agent and criminal justice professor emeritus at Pennsylvania’s Edinboro University, started wondering about officer-involved shootings in late 2010. He discovered there’s no national tracking of the shootings, which he believes are more common than when he was in the FBI decades ago. So, he decided to study them for a year in 2011.
“I noticed a lot of mentally ill people were shot, and a lot of people didn’t have guns,” Fisher said. “With regard to how these cases are investigated, if someone shoots a cop, I guarantee you a thorough investigation, but when a police officer shoots someone, you really can’t trust the result, and they’re really not that thorough.”
Fisher found more than 1,000 incidents nationwide of police shooting — and either wounding or killing — suspects in 2011. He said he had expected to find less than a third of that number.
“I was also surprised by the high percentage of justifications for the shootings under circumstances I consider questionable,” he said. “In other words, it seemed to me the police were killing people unnecessarily.”
California was the most deadly state in his findings, with 102 fatal police shootings. California cities took seven out of 17 places in Fisher’s list of cities with the highest number of officer-involved shootings per capita. And almost every case was closed without charges by police internal investigations and district attorney reviews.
Fisher said there’s no federal agency charged with overseeing police shootings, or holding police departments accountable for doing quality investigations. The state of California doesn’t even track basic data like the number of these shootings, and Fisher said no federal agency does either. He gathered the information for his study from media reports.
“The police essentially are investigating themselves, and the American public really doesn’t trust the results of an internal investigation that says, ‘We have cleared these officers,’ ” Fisher said. “Americans aren’t stupid.”