Posted on Aug 07, 2009 by Steve Gravelle.
At least four Iowans have died so far this year in confrontations with police. No one can tell you if that’s unusual.
“It’s going to be difficult to get this information,” said Jessica Lown, spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Safety. “We don’t actively track those kinds of cases.”
Although local departments typically call in the Division of Criminal Investigation to investigate officer-involved shootings, the agency doesn’t keep track of them, Lown said.
“We cannot say with 100 percent certainty that we investigate all officer-involved shootings, because we’re an assisting agency,” she said.
The most recent violent confrontation came July 31 on Davenport’s Centennial Bridge, where police fatally shot Steven Mallory, 39, of Davenport, after Mallory assaulted an officer.
Checking similar cases online turned up:
The July 24 incident in Iowa City, in which a Johnson County Sheriff’s deputy shot John Deng, 26, during a confrontation outside a bar.
On July 12, West Des Moines police shot a 36-year-old man after he confronted them with a gun inside a town house he’d entered.
An Urbandale man died after he was shot June 8 with “less-than-lethal” rounds during a standoff. The man had called police, saying he was distraught and intended to shoot himself.
Records from the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics suggest that four fatal officer-involved shootings halfway through the year may not be excessive. The agency counted nine “arrest-related deaths” in Iowa in both 2004 and 2005, with the number dropping to three in 2006. The records don’t specify whether a death was caused by a shooting or other cause, and a bureau statistician said the method of counting such incidents is “imperfect.”
“We just started this a year or two ago,” said Joel Garner. “We just go to the state agencies and ask them what’s out there, and we look at what’s in the newspapers.”
Amanda Humphrey, assistant professor of criminal justice at Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, said each agency handles it privately. “I’m not sure exactly why that is,” she said.
Bureau of Justice Statistics on arrest-related incidents are available at www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/dcrp/lawenfindex.htm
Tom Aveni, executive director and co-founder of the Police Policy Studies Council in Spofford, N.H., said many departments are reluctant to track officer-related shootings out of a mistaken fear of lawsuits — a reluctance that he said is costing them valuable information.
“They’ll tell me they’re afraid to gather data, because once they do, it becomes public record, and when it does, it’s going to be used against them,” said Aveni. “We’re fooling ourselves, to put it mildly.”
Aveni said a rigorous database of such incidents would improve agencies’ training programs.
“You get a better understanding, so you can go about training your people more appropriately,” he said. “Having all the data should make them better able to defend themselves when they are, in fact, sued.”