The number of U.S. police officers charged in fatal shootings, driven by greater scrutiny over the use of deadly force, has hit the highest level in a decade in 2015, shows new research reported by Reuters. Public outrage over the deaths of black men at the hands of police in New York, Missouri and elsewhere have helped prompt prosecutions. Police body cameras and bystanders’ videos also have helped bring cases, but even with the upturn, only a small percentage of police killings result in charges, lawyers and analysts say. A dozen officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter this year resulting from shootings, up from an average of about five a year from 2005 to 2014, said Philip Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green State University.
The 2015 number does not include six Baltimore officers facing trial for the death of Freddie Gray. The 25-year-old black man died in April from a spinal injury after he was arrested and bundled in a transport van. Four of the officers face murder or manslaughter charges. Over the previous decade just one in five officers charged was found guilty, said Stinson, a former police officer. Stinson says it is too early to tell if the upturn indicates a permanent change or is a statistical fluke. “We can tell for one year, but is that just an anomaly or is it a trend?” he says. The prosecutions deal with only a small fraction of the killings by U.S. police. A Washington Post database last week showed 796 fatal police shootings this year, and one maintained by the Guardian newspaper recorded 927 deaths from all causes.