New study sheds light into police shootings and unarmed suspects

GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – A new study finds the number of unarmed people killed after a police encounter is much lower than perceived. The study is entitled “Unarmed Civilians and the Police: Analysis of data from the StreetCred Police Killings in Context Data Project.”

It looked at 125 incidents from January 2015 to August 2015 where an unarmed person died after an encounter with law enforcement.

The study found that in 81 of those cases, the individual was engaging in a violent act, destruction, or property theft. 31 of the incidents began as a simple traffic stop.

The study also found that in more than half of the cases where an individual died, there was no shooting at all. Instead, the person died due to complications arising from the use of non-deadly force, or other reasons.

In the cases where shots were fired, tasers were used in 29 percent of the incidents before a gun. There also were a proportionate number of blacks, whites and Hispanics involved.

Pitt County Sheriff Neil Elks said deputies have to make split second decisions on when to shoot, and when not to. He said that is why they place such a heavy emphasis on training. In some cases, they use video simulators to give deputies a way to practice what they could encounter.

“We try to apply that scenario to a real life incident that we may be involved in,” Elks said.

He said he requires his deputies go through double the amount of training required by the state.

Newly appointed Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman was the former chief in Hagerstown, Md., which is just north of Baltimore. He said he had to send officers down to Baltimore to help in the Freddy Gray protests. He said the fallout from that case surrounded a break down in communication between the department and community.

He said the study points out the fact officers will often try to use non-deadly force when encountering a subject who could present a danger to them or others.

“The police are not out looking for trouble, but they get called to trouble, and once they get there, then they have to sort it out,” Holtzman said.

He said sometimes a subject can die while in custody because of a drug overdose that happened before police even got involved.

To read the full study, click here.

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