The Counted is a project by the Guardian – and you – working to count the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015 and 2016, to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.
The database will combine Guardian reporting with verified crowdsourced information to build a more comprehensive record of such fatalities. The Counted is the most thorough public accounting for deadly use of force in the US, but it will operate as an imperfect work in progress – and will be updated by Guardian reporters and interactive journalists as frequently and as promptly as possible.
Contributions of any information that may improve the quality of our data will be greatly welcomed as we work from a dearth of available information toward better accountability. Please contact us to pass on tips, links and multimedia as well as new information on existing cases already recorded.
It is reported by Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland and Jamiles Lartey. It is designed and produced by Kenan Davis, Rich Harris, Nadja Popovich and Kenton Powell.
The US government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement. This lack of basic data has been glaring amid the protests, riots and worldwide debate set in motion by the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old, in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014.
Before stepping down as US attorney general in April 2015, Eric Holder described the prevailing situation on data collection as “unacceptable”.
The Guardian agrees with those analysts, campaign groups, activists and authorities who argue that such accounting is a prerequisite for an informed public discussion about the use of force by police.
The FBI runs a voluntary program through which law enforcement agencies may or may not choose to submit their annual count of “justifiable homicides”, which it defines as “the killing of a felon in the line of duty”.
This system is arguably less valuable than having no system at all: fluctuations in the number of agencies choosing to report figures, plus faulty reporting by agencies that do report, have resulted in partially informed news coverage pointing misleadingly to trends that may or may not exist.
Between 2005 and 2012 just 1,100 police departments – a fraction of America’s 18,000 police agencies – reported a “justifiable homicide” to the FBI.
The FBI system counted 461 justifiable homicides by law enforcement in 2013, the latest year for which data is available. Crowdsourced counts found almost 300 additional fatalities during that year. The Counted, upon its launch on June 1, 2015, had already found close to that number of killings in just the first five months of 2015.
So far, we count with traditional reporting on police reports and witness statements, by monitoring regional news outlets, research groups and open-source reporting projects such as the websites Fatal Encounters and Killed by Police.
But our intention is to progress to a verified crowdsourced system. We want you to inform us as soon as possible if you witness a killing by law enforcement officers or learn of one that has taken place. We want to hear from you if you have further information about a case already included in The Counted.
We welcome all contributions of information that may improve the quality of our data. The Counted is a comprehensive and ongoing process of verification, as we continue to work from an inaccurate standard toward a more perfect standard. Please pass on your information as soon as possible.
You can talk to us in several ways. We want to hear from you.
The Guardian has started a special Facebook community for The Counted, where you can follow the progress of the project. It’s designed to be an open space where people who have information that may help inform our reporting can share it with Guardian journalists.
We will be using The Counted on Facebook to share details from our own reporting and from other news outlets on police killings, to discuss the issues involved and to contact people involved with or connected to incidents.
Any deaths arising directly from encounters with law enforcement. This will inevitably include, but will likely not be limited to, people who were shot, tasered and struck by police vehicles as well those who died in police custody.
Self-inflicted deaths during encounters with law enforcement. For instance, a person who died by crashing his or her vehicle into an oncoming car while fleeing from police at high speed is not regarded by the Guardian’s database to have been killed by law enforcement.
The database does not include suicides or self-inflicted deaths including drug overdoses in police custody or detention facilities. Other crowdsourced counts do include some such deaths.
In mass shootout incidents, like the one in Waco, Texas, where police have failed to identify those who were killed by law enforcement and those killed by civilian gunfire, the Guardian has been unable to log individuals in the database. We will make every effort to include this information when more details are provided.
At present, the Guardian is collecting data on those killed by police specifically in 2015 and 2016.
This information is difficult to verify because often the only information available comes directly from law enforcement officials. In some cases, friends and relatives of people killed will dispute this official account. For The Counted, we use the term “armed” to express the nature of the threat perceived by law enforcement. This means, for example, that “vehicle” will appear under the category of “armed” if the person was trying to use it as a weapon.
Similarly, a person who is found to have had a weapon in his or her possession that he or she did not attempt to use, or which is discovered only after that person has been killed, would be categorised here as unarmed. Freddie Gray, who was found to have a knife in his pocket after being arrested by police in Baltimore in April 2015, would be one such example.
In cases where multiple witnesses offered a credible alternative story to the official account of whether a person was armed, we have labelled the case “disputed” pending the conclusions of investigations.
The category “Other” contains any item other than a firearm, knife or vehicle which police have described as a threat. This includes “non-powder” projectile weapons such as BB guns and airsoft rifles, as well as machetes, swords and blunt instruments.
In order to provide a resource that can help contribute to ongoing national conversations about race and policing, the Guardian has made every effort to find and express a race/ethnicity for all the individuals represented in the database.
This information has been obtained from all available sources including police and coroners’ reports, voter registration data, witness testimony, court records and photographs. These will occasionally prove inaccurate. If you know of more accurate information, please contact us as soon possible.
This project uses US Census Bureau 2015 population estimates as the basis for per capita death rates.
Reporting: Jon Swaine, Oliver Laughland, Jamiles Lartey and Ciara McCarthy
Design and production: Kenan Davis, Rich Harris, Nadja Popovich and Kenton Powell
Community maintenance and moderation: Kayla Epstein, Mary Hamilton, Mike Barry, Jessica Lee and Sarah Eberspacher
Video: Christian Bennett, Laurence Mathieu-Léger and Mae Ryan
Additional reporting: Tom McCarthy
Pictures: Sarah Gilbert
Copy editing: Maraithe Thomas and Tom Gottlieb
Edited by Katharine Viner, Lee Glendinning and Matt Sullivan