Policing Deaths With App Time

An estimated 1136 people were killed by United States law enforcement personnel last year. A dozen more lost their lives to police officers within the first week of this year. Just outside of Bozeman, a Livingston man was killed in an officer-involved shooting. Before going any further, it is important to note that this article is neither providing justification for or against officer-involved shootings nor is it identifying any party within the events as being innocent or guilty.

The app in focus this week is Archives + Absences. This app sends its user a push notification every time United States law enforcement personnel kill someone. Archives + Absences uses data gathered by news agency The Guardian to identify the deceased by name and the location of their death, which is presented to the app’s users in one of two ways: a map or a news feed structured similarly to a text message thread.

Amid a turbulent, post-Ferguson environment, there has been much law enforcement reform both called for and conducted within the United States. One of the more concerning areas demanding reform is the lack of official data that accurately summarizes the amount of police-involved deaths. At the start of 2015, The Guardian began shedding light on the government’s oversight by detailing the number of deaths, including demographics of the deceased. In response to a growing demand for accountability, a use-of-force data program was developed by the Department of Justice. The program was announced in October by U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch.

Why does counting fatal shootings matter, though? There is obviously significant importance in something that has inspired government-level change. What programs like Archives + Absences do is provide insight into areas of national concern that are going seemingly unnoticed. The sheer number of fatal shootings by those sworn to provide protection and security to this country’s citizens is occurring at disturbingly higher rates than other developed countries across the globe. From 2010 to 2014, there was a total of four police-involved fatalities in the United Kingdom. Since 2014, only three individuals were killed by law enforcement in Germany. In December, 2013, Icelandic law enforcement shot and killed one of its citizens for the first time since its founding as a republic in 1944.

What these numbers do not do, however, is show why fatalities are so prominent in the United States. Arguments regarding population size are entirely invalid. China has a population of nearly 1.5 billion and the entire country reported only a dozen police-involved fatalities in 2014.
Though not much has been done to reverse the trend, there has been action to inhibit the growth of it. One of the main issues contributing to these statistics is the militarization of United States law enforcement. In 2015, Governor Bullock signed a bill that restricts the militarization of local enforcement by prohibiting the obtaining of armored vehicles as well as grenade launchers, grenades, silencers, and weaponized drones. The bill illustrates why it is so important to keep counting officer-involved shooting deaths. These counts go beyond accountability, they are a means of monitoring our future.