Jennifer Smith Richards, Angela Caputo, Todd Lighty, and Jason Meisner, Chicago Tribune, August 26, 2016
Every five days, on average, a Chicago police officer fired a gun at someone.
In 435 shootings over a recent six-year span, officers killed 92 people and wounded 170 others.
While a few of those incidents captured widespread attention, they occurred with such brutal regularity–and with scant information provided by police–that most have escaped public scrutiny.
Now, after months of struggles with Chicago police to get information through the Freedom of Information Act, the Chicago Tribune has compiled an unprecedented database of details of every time police fired a weapon from 2010 through 2015.
Analysis of that data revealed startling patterns about the officers who fired and the people they shot at.
Among the findings:
•At least 2,623 bullets were fired by police in 435 shootings. In 235 of those incidents, officers struck at least one person; in another 200 shootings, officers missed entirely.
•About four out of every five people shot by police were African-American males.
•About half of the officers involved in shootings were African-American or Hispanic.
•The officers who fired weren’t rookies but, on average, had almost a decade of experience.
•Of the 520 officers who fired their weapons, more than 60 of them did so in more than one incident.
•The number of shootings by police–hits and misses–declined over the six years, from more than 100 in 2011 to 44 in 2015.
To be sure, policing the city’s most dangerous streets can be harrowing. Nearly 6,000 illegal guns have been seized in the city so far this year–a staggering amount of firepower that far outpaces other big cities. The dangers were on display in graphic detail earlier this month when the department released dramatic dashboard-camera video of officers being shot at while pursuing a carjacking suspect in their squad cars on the South Side. One officer suffered a graze wound to his face.
The officers who shot someone often said they did so because they were in fear for their lives, a key requirement before police are supposed to use lethal force. In about six of every 10 shootings, officers said the civilian had pointed a gun at them or made some other move leading them to think they were armed, such as reaching toward their waistband.
Officers who have shot at people are often accused of being racially biased, unfairly targeting black men and being too quick to pull the trigger. Earlier this year, the mayor’s own Police Accountability Task Force released recommendations for reforming the department, one of which called for the superintendent to publicly acknowledge the force’s “history of racial disparity and discrimination.”
The Tribune’s data indeed show a wide racial disparity in who is shot. In the years examined by the Tribune, 80 percent of the 262 people shot by Chicago police were African-American. Hispanics accounted for 35 of the shooting victims, nearly 14 percent of the total. Only 14 of those shot were white, less than 6 percent of the total.
The Tribune’s database showed that in six out of every 10 officer-involved shootings, the civilian was charged with a crime. By far the most common charge brought was assaulting a police officer with a firearm. But it also was typical for those shot by police to be charged with numerous other counts, everything from drug possession to violation of parole.
According to the data, about 80 cases of assault of a police officer were brought against those shot by officers in the six-year period studied by the Tribune. Court records show that prosecutors often brought additional charges and defendants pleaded guilty to them as well.
From the data, the Tribune was able to identify the race of 300 of the 324 officers who opened fire in shootings that resulted in injuries or death.
Although white officers make up a larger portion of the police force, they don’t shoot citizens at a higher rate. Hispanic officers, meanwhile, make up only 19 percent of Chicago’s police force but fired in 26 percent of officer-involved shootings.
A little more than half of the officers who fired shots at people were minorities–84 Hispanics (28 percent) and 69 blacks (23 percent). White officers made up 45 percent of the total–136 officers in all. The other officers were listed as Asian/Pacific Islander.
No officer has fired at citizens more during the time period examined by the Tribune than Tracey Williams, an African-American tactical officer with nearly a decade on the job.
Over five years, Williams fired her gun five different times in various neighborhoods throughout the city–from North Lawndale to Fuller Park, the Tribune analysis shows. Each time, she fired at a black male. The targets ranged in age from 17 to 45. One died, one survived with a gunshot to the leg and three others were not hit.