How Far Did The Washington Post Stretch Police Shooting Numbers?

posted on October 13, 2016

With the current national conversation concerning law enforcement officers’ shooting of suspected criminals, the reporting of factual information about such events is more important than ever. Unfortunately, at least one national media outlet is failing us all in that respect. 

The Washington Post’s banner headline recently shrieked, “More than 250 people have been fatally shot by police officers in the first three months of 2016.” 

And in fact, when researching this controversial issue, many Americans turn to The Washington Post’s national database on the use of force by police. The database breaks out statistics by gender, age, race, the level of threat to the officer, the types of weapons used, and whether the persons shot showed signs of mental illness. 

But are the Post’s numbers reliable?

At least one researcher finds that they aren’t.

Kevin Davis, an Ohio instructor on the police use of force, recently drilled down into the Post’s statistics and—relying solely on published reports on the incidents—found that the newspaper’s figures were off. 

If you look at The Washington Post’s database, you’ll see that out of the 991 persons killed by police in 2015, some 93 of them were supposedly “unarmed.”Unfortunately, at least one national media outlet is failing us all in that respect.

But by digging down into the stories further, Davis found—and reported in an article published at—that this figure was not only inflated, but also gave a misleading impression of the actual situation.

First of all, the Post falsely counted three police shootings of supposedly “unarmed” suspects where the suspect in fact was armed. In another case, the man who was shot wasn’t armed, but his passenger was shooting, and the driver was trying to run over officers. Six unarmed individuals were shot accidentally. Three more were “in the wrong place at the wrong time”—in other words, with armed criminals who were in shootouts with police.

Subtract those 13 cases from the Post’s claim of 93 unarmed suspects shot by police, and you come up with 80—but Davis points out that even that figure is misleading. 

For one thing, some 62 percent of those 80 cases involved persons who were actively attacking officers, trying to disarm them or, in two incidents, trying to drown police.

And where the Post claims there were only 34 such incidents of “attacks in progress,” Davis finds that the actual number is 50. 

We’ve all seen, over the past several months, how most of the national media have abandoned even the pretense of impartiality in the presidential race.What’s more, police typically attempted less-lethal means to protect themselves and make the arrest before relying on firearms—and in 22.5 percent of the 80 incidents, police found that Tasers didn’t subdue the suspects. 

On top of that, 13 shootings were apparently cases of “police-assisted suicide”—where, for example, suspects had vowed that they would force police to kill them—and in 15 percent of the cases, the suspects made movements suggesting that they were drawing a firearm. One suspect, for example, had pointed a cell phone at officers. 

As Davis concluded: 

“By examining these incidents, we can conclude that of the 80 unarmed subjects intentionally shot in incidents, the vast majority (62 percent) were actively attacking officers. Those 80 subjects comprise only 8 percent of the total number of suspects (990) who were shot and killed.” 

Furthermore, if only 38 percent of the 80 suspects deliberately shot by police were neither armed nor actively attacking police, that’s 30 suspects—amounting to about 3 percent of the total—which is a far cry from the impression left by The Washington Post’s database. 

We’ve all seen over the past several months how most of the national media have abandoned even the pretense of impartiality in the presidential race. 

Although far more journalists self-identify as liberals or Democrats than as conservatives or Republicans, never before (or at least not in this writer’s memory) has the Fourth Estate so blatantly, slavishly and universally lined up behind one candidate to trash the other. 

What’s even more disturbing is how, over the past several months, the national media have sought to inflate their ratings and readership, and thereby influence the election, by inflaming public opinion and inciting racial resentment by propagating the fiction that police are supposedly racist killers, and that black lives supposedly don’t matter to them. 

Unfortunately, The Washington Post’s recent “analysis” of police shootings appears to fit into that narrative as if it were tailor-made.


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