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Fatal shootings by police eclipse 2014 total

Sep 14, 2015 | by Lynn Powell

The number of fatal shootings by police continues to climb in Oklahoma, with some saying the state is an extreme example of a host of cultural issues being experienced across the country.

The shooting death of a man by Cushing police Aug. 30 marked the 26th time this year that law enforcement officers in Oklahoma have fatally shot someone, according to a database of deadly incidents compiled by the Tulsa World.

The number of fatal shootings by police continues to climb in Oklahoma, with some saying the state is an extreme example of a host of cultural issues being experienced across the country.

The shooting death of a man by Cushing police Aug. 30 marked the 26th time this year that law enforcement officers in Oklahoma have fatally shot someone, according to a database of deadly incidents compiled by the Tulsa World.

A Cushing police officer shot Shawn Allen Hall, 20, of Ripley after he pointed a gun at others and did not follow commands by the officer to drop his weapon, according to law enforcement officials.

The number of fatal law enforcement shootings in Oklahoma has increased or remained the same each year since 2009. Oklahoma law enforcement officials fatally shot 25 people in 2014.

Since 2007, there have been 139 deadly shootings by law enforcement officers, according to the World database.

An official with American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma said the trend of deadly encounters between police and residents can be traced to several factors.

“Sadly, the trend is not surprising to me, just because I think that we’ve got really a perfect storm for police shootings in Oklahoma,” ACLU of Oklahoma Legal Director Brady Henderson said.

Recent high-profile police shootings in the state and elsewhere have helped contribute to some of the reasons for the increase in fatal encounters, Henderson said.

“Trust and rapport between law enforcement and many citizens is at an incredible low,” Henderson said.

“When citizens start thinking that way, what happens is their behaviors change,” Henderson said. “They start behaving differently with officers in ways that become more combative, that become more stressful to the officers, which means what happens, the officers start fearing for their safety and so the hands start going closer to the triggers on both sides,” Henderson said.

In June, Oklahoma was ranked No. 1 in deadly police shootings per capita in 2015, according to a Washington Post analysis of data the newspaper had compiled.

At the time, the Washington Post estimated Oklahoma had 4.4 deadly police shootings per 1 million people for 2015. However, data compiled by the Tulsa World indicated the number was closer to 4.9 deadly encounters per 1 million residents.

A summer spate of deadly shootings in the state since then has now pushed the rate to 6.7 fatal encounters with law enforcement per 1 million people.

Henderson and others attribute some of the increase in fatal shootings to an overwhelmed mental-health-care system.

“We have so many people who are in need of treatment who are generally OK when they are on their medications,” said Scott Wood, an attorney who specializes in the defense of police officers.

“We are so underfunded in services that what happens is you’ve got so many people out there that aren’t getting the services they need and keep ending up in the law enforcement and criminal justice system,” Henderson said.

Recent shootings of police also have contributed to law enforcement officers being in a condition of “extremely high alert,” Wood said.

“They are in a state of condition red all the time,” Wood said. “You can’t just pull into the Wal-Mart under a streetlight to work on some reports and think you are going to be OK.”

All of those fatally shot by law enforcement so far this year were males whose ages ranged from 18 to 83, with an average age of 38, according to the World database.

Sixteen of those fatally shot were whites, seven were black, and the rest were Native American or Hispanic. About 27 percent of those fatally shot were black. African-Americans people make up about 8 percent of the state population.

In at least 17 of the 26 cases, the victim was armed with a gun, according to reports at the time.

Among individual jurisdictions, Oklahoma City police were involved in seven of the fatal shootings. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol has been involved in four.

Tulsa police have not been involved in any fatal shootings this year.

Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office personnel have been involved in one shooting death this year, that of Eric Harris.

Prosecutors have charged Tulsa County former reserve deputy Robert Bates with second-degree manslaughter in connection with the death of Harris. Bates has said he thought he was using his Taser when he shot Harris.

All remaining cases of officer-involved shootings have either been deemed justified by prosecutors or are still under review.

Some advocate that more training for police is warranted, but Wood said it’s not always a simple solution. For instance, Wood said, events sometimes happen too quickly to employ de-escalation techniques.

“It’s a little bit unfair when people say, ‘Why don’t you try to de-escalate?’” Wood said. “Officers do it all the time. We don’t keep statistics on all the times it happens and that de-escalation is actually used.”

Henderson, meanwhile, said Oklahoma City police are also reporting an unprecedented number of guns that are being taken off the streets.

“So what that does is it creates a perfect environment for more violence between police and citizens,” Henderson said.

Both Henderson and Wood agree it will take a multi-perspective approach to reduce the number of deadly police encounters.

“It’s a problem that can’t only be solved with what law enforcement does,” Henderson said.

 

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