POLICE SHOOTINGS NEED CLOSER LOOK 

POST REPORTERS UNCOVER RATES OF DEADLY FORCE, BUT EDITORIAL PAGE DISMISSES THE IMPLICATIONS

by David Kopel

July 29, 2001

The news section of The Denver Post wrote an important article that provided perspective to a serious problem in Denver. But the editorial page of the Post quickly denied the problem that the news section had uncovered.

Police in Prince George's County, Maryland, have been perpetrating fatal shootings at an extremely high rate. As part of a major investigative series, The Washington Post compiled data about police shootings in each of the 50 largest cities in the United States. The Washington Post research shows that Denver police fatally shoot people at a much higher rate than do police in most other cities. So The Denver Post (July 16) ran a story reporting the Denver results, and providing expert comments from both critics and defenders of the Denver police.

But the next day, The Denver Post editorial page offered a ridiculous denunciation of the study. The Post purported to show that there are so many "conflicting statistical standards" that nothing can be proven, claimed: "By some measures, New York ranks way above other cities when it comes to 'gun deaths by police' but by others it ranks near the bottom."

In fact, New York City city ranks 28th (out of 50) on one per-capita measure, and 41st to 45th in the other five per-capita measures. The only "measure" (not "measures") by which New York City is "way above" is average annual shootings, which is rather easily explained by the fact that NYC's total population is "way above" every other city.

What matters is not the raw totals, but the population-adjusted rates. For those, Denver is high by almost every measure, ranking second, sixth, seventh, eighth or 10th. The only rate in which Denver falls out of the high-end group, and into the middle, is "Fatal Shootings per 10,000 arrests for all crimes," for which Denver is 28th. Which means that the number of police fatal shootings in relation to the number of traffic arrests, bad check arrests, and so on, is only average. By every other measure - including killings per officer, killings per civilian population, and killings compared to the violent crime rate - Denver ranks as an unusually deadly city. The Denver Post's original news article reporting on The Washington Post study was good, but would have been better if it had reproduced the statistical chart that The Washington Post ran.

At the least, The Denver Post should have included the URL where readers could find the police killings chart on the Internet. That's the only way for a reader to see the falsity of the editorial claim that "some measures" show New York City shootings to be "way above" average. The URL is http://www.washingtpost.com/wp-srv/metro/>specials/pgshoot/shootstats.htm

Rocky Mountain News Foreign Affairs columnist Holger Jensen tends to editorialize a lot, even though his columns run in the news section.

While on the way to the G-8 Summit, President Bush said that opponents of free trade "hurt the cause of the poor" because "they hurt the opportunities for developing nations to grow." Jensen (July 14) slammed back that "U.N. figures suggest otherwise." As evidence, Jensen wrote that 64 poor nations have $175 billion of debt, and that foreign aid has declined in the last decade. "In other words," Jensen concluded, "the rich are getting richer but not helping the poor."

But Jensen's responses have nothing to do with the Bush argument that Jensen claimed to be refuting. Bush was saying that free trade promotes prosperity. Bush wasn't promising that more trade would mean more foreign aid or more loans or more loan forgiveness. The point of Bush's free-trade view is that when nations allow their people to trade freely, then the nation as a whole prospers. Conversely, when narrow elites establish a chokehold on foreign trade, and also steal most of the foreign aid and foreign loans coming into the country, then the country will become even poorer - just what's happening in sub-Saharan Africa, where almost every government is a kleptocracy.

The July 17 front page of The Denver Post was exactly the same as the July 16 front page - at least in the edition I read. Some of the July 19 stock tables in the News turned out to a reprint of the July 18 stock tables.

But the oldest news came in the Post's July 22 Arts & Entertainment section, where the chess column contained the astonishing headline: "Bobby Fischer Seen, Heard after Hiatus." A fresh appearance by the famous recluse, who captured the world chess championship from the Soviets? No, the column is a reprint of a November 1992 article from Chess Life magazine.

I realize that the Post just buys the chess column from a syndicate. But if the syndicate that supplies the Post with horoscope columns sent a column predicting the events of November 1992, I bet an editor would call the syndicate, and demand that a replacement column be sent over pronto. How come chess fans get stuck with news from nine years ago?

 

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