Study: Texas fails to report all officer-involved shootings

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — A study published by a lecturer at Texas State University shows that since 2006 about 220 fatal officer-involved shootings in Texas were never reported to the appropriate agencies.

“We aren’t talking about a tax increase here, we’re talking about taking someone’s life, the most serious thing a government can do, and we can’t even tell you how often it happens?” asked the study’s author, Dr. Howard Williams.

For 36 years, Williams worked in law enforcement, and for 11 of those years he was the chief of police in San Marcos. After retiring from the force he started researching for Texas State University.

“I started compiling the data not long after the shooting in Ferguson, Missouri, the shooting of Michael Brown,” said Williams. “We found that Texas is collecting information on only 74 percent of the shooting fatalities.”

That’s roughly one in four officer-involved shootings not reported to the Attorney General’s Office. In Texas, it’s state law to report every single case.

“They aren’t trying to hide the fact that they are happening, but somewhere there is an administrative function that is not getting these reports passed along,” said Williams.

Howard says without the reports, the state as a whole is losing out on data that could help stop these shootings in the future.

“If we don’t have the data to go back and look at, we don’t know if there is a failure in public policy, is there a failure in police policy, is there a failure in our equipment, is there a failure in our training? Unless we have this data to look at we really can’t sort that out,” said Williams.

Williams says the reports could also shed light on societal issues and trends such as mental illness.

“All the different rolls in society, education, mental health, physical health, all these things matter when we talk about these things. But we lack the data to be able to go back and identify these antecedent conditions so that perhaps we could have found an intervention earlier that kept us from getting to the point where an officer felt like he or she had to pull the trigger on somebody,” said Williams. “We aren’t making any accusations against anyone, what we are simply saying is that we need to have better ways of collecting the data so we can figure out what is happening here, so maybe we can make life a little better for everyone.”

Two cases in the Austin area were not reported to the Attorney General’s Office in that time. In 2009, an Austin police officer and Travis County deputy both shot at 38-year-old Roger Tyrone James as he stepped out of his front door with a gun. In 2011, Travis County Sheriff’s SWAT officers shot 31-year old Joshua Blair Samuelson, after a standoff.

Williams has looked into what could have caused the departments in Texas to not properly report. He says many times there could have been some confusion on the case on whether they needed to report it, or who was supposed to report it, some departments forgot and others were lost in transmission.

California is the only other state with mandatory reporting requirements. The Texas State study shows California neglected to report more than 400 cases to the Attorney General’s office since 2006.