Though the city of Philadelphia is just 44 percent Black, 81 percent of the victims of the 394 officer-involved shootings in the city between 2007 and 2014 were Black, according to an analysis of the Philadelphia Police Department released today by the U.S. Justice Department.
Of those 394 shootings, suspects were unarmed 15 percent of the time, while they were armed with firearms 56 percent of the time and used vehicles as weapons 9 percent of the time. In addition, 8 percent of the time they were armed with a sharp object, 3 percent of the time with a BB gun, and 3 percent of the time with a blunt object.
The Justice Department study was released amidst a national referendum on the police shootings of unarmed Black men. It comes as Philadelphia is dealing with its own outrage over the death of Brandon Tate-Brown, 26, an unarmed Black man who was killed by the police in December.
But the study actually was initiated back in 2013 at the request of Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey after a spate of police-involved shootings.
One of the primary conclusions of the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) was that Philadelphia officers do not receive enough training in the use of deadly force. The review implied that shootings are common—an average of one a week over the past seven years—and faulted the department for not requiring officers to carry less lethal alternatives, such as stun guns.
Because police departments are not required to compile data on police shootings, it’s hard to judge how much Philadelphia differs from other large cities in having 59 unarmed people shot by Philadelphia police officers since 2007.
But for the sake of comparison, the New York Times pointed out that New York City’s population and police force are more than five times larger than Philadelphia, yet Philadelphia had dozens more police shootings during the period covered by the report.
Of the shootings of unarmed people, the review said they mostly occurred because of an incorrect perception of threat by the officer or a physical altercation. The review said 49 percent of the shootings of unarmed people was because of “threat perception failure,” which meant the officer misidentified a nonthreatening object like a cell phone or thought a movement such as tugging at the waistband meant the person was reaching for a weapon.
Physical altercations were the reasons for the shootings 35 percent of the time.
The remaining unarmed incidents involved toy guns (10 percent), unarmed accomplices (3 percent), and accidental discharge (2 percent).
White suspects were unarmed in 8 of 32 (25 percent) officer-involved shootings.
Black suspects were unarmed in 45 of 285 (15.8 percent) officer-involved shootings.
Hispanic suspects were unarmed in 5 of 34 (14.7 percent) officer-involved shootings.
Asian suspects were unarmed in 1 of 5 (20 percent) officer-involved shootings.