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.”

  • PigStateNews

    At least 1014 people have been killed by U.S. police since May 1, 2013.

  • pqjulie

    While it is interesting to do a story and “stats” from media reports, it is also highly inaccurate and inappropriate to make judgments and policies based strictly on this type of information. This is a very important issue and it is unfortunate that there isn’t a standardized database. Hopefully in the future DOJ will look into creating one so a better comparison can be done.

    • oexrex

      I suggest viewing the documentary, “How to Make Money Selling Drugs”

    • Sean Laney

      “it is also highly inaccurate”

      Yes, because it likely underreports the incidents in question. Each incident above was confirmed.

  • oexrex

    Another officer involved shooting in Vallejo today

  • mcian

    Doesn’t surprise me, I mean this is a communist state afterall.

  • red84cj7

    Probably has absolutely nothing to do with CA releasing 100,000 inmates from its prison system due to overcrowding. I’m sure none of them were mentally ill, or violent offenders; they were all likely salt of the earth people that were unjustly convicted of crimes they didn’t commit so releasing them to the streets had absolutely no impact on crime, let alone serious and violent crimes.

    Just because someone wasn’t armed doesn’t mean they weren’t capable of inflicting serious bodily injury or death. And just because one ex-FBI agent doesn’t think a shooting was necessary, doesn’t mean it wasn’t.


Alex Emslie

Alex Emslie is a criminal justice reporter at KQED. He covers policing policy, crime and the courts.

He left Colorado and a career as a carpenter in 2008 to study journalism at City College of San Francisco. He then graduated from San Francisco State University's journalism program with a minor in criminal justice studies. Prior to joining KQED in 2013, Alex freelanced for various news outlets including the Huffington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Examiner and Bay Guardian.

Alex is proud of his work at KQED on a spike in fatal officer-involved shootings in Vallejo, which uncovered that a single officer shot and killed three suspects over the course of five months. Alex's work with a team at KQED on police encounters with people in psychiatric crisis was cited in amicus briefs before the U.S. Supreme Court. He received the Northern California Society of Professional Journalists Best Scoop award in 2015 for exposing a series of bigoted text messages swapped by San Francisco police officers. He was honored with 2010 San Francisco Peninsula Press Club and California Newspaper Publishers Association awards for breaking news reporting on the trial following the shooting of Oscar Grant. Email: aemslie@kqed.org. Twitter: @SFNewsReporter.

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