Law enforcement officers in Harris County, Tx., which includes Houston, have shot 65 unarmed people since 1999, killing 17. The incidents represent more than a third of all local police shootings; experts call them the most preventable, reports the Houston Chronicle. After two unarmed teenagers were shot and killed in separate cases last year, the Chronicle analyzed 189 shootings by officers from 18 local law enforcement agencies in the past 5 1/2 years. Officers’ actions were ruled justified in nearly all of the shootings examined. A shooting can be legally acceptable if an officer believes someone’s life is in danger. Only half of those shot by police carried a gun or a knife. Another 7 percent held another object, such as a screwdriver, a piece of lumber, or a pipe. Nearly once a month, on average, police shot someone who had no weapon.
The shootings of two teens by Houston police officers outraged community leaders. The Chonricle found scores of other shootings of the unarmed that have attracted little attention: a naked man shot by a Harris County sheriff’s deputy in the man’s own living room, two unarmed men shot by a Houston officer after they made suspicious movements during a traffic stop, shoplifters shot by off-duty officers. Several patterns emerged among the 65 shootings of unarmed people that experts said could be addressed with updated policies, alternative weapons, and training: Moonlighting: Twelve people were shot by off-duty officers working security jobs for extra pay; Buy-busts: At least eight people were shot by narcotics officers; Mentally ill: At least 10 mentally ill people shot were unarmed or carrying objects such as screwdrivers and pieces of wood; inside vehicles: At least 36 were shot while in cars or trucks. Most were shot by sheriff’s deputies, some of whom put themselves in harm’s way and then fired in self-defense. Other cities, pushed by citizen protests and lawsuits, have radically reduced officer shootings by adopting stricter standards and alternative weapons.