WHY COPS SHOOT

About the story

The investigation

The data

The Tampa Bay Times asked all of Florida’s nearly 400 law enforcement agencies for reports generated when an officer fired a gun and someone was injured or killed from Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2014. Almost 160 agencies said they had at least one police shooting. The others, mostly small agencies with few officers, said they did not have any police shootings during those six years.

There is no standard reporting system for police shootings, so the documents the Times received varied from a single sheet to hundreds of pages. The Times, which spent more than $4,000 on just the police reports, supplemented the documents with Florida Department of Law Enforcement reports, subsequent newspaper and television news coverage, press releases, criminal and civil court documents and fresh interviews with police, witnesses and families of those shot.

The Times used the more than 50,000 pages of records to create the most comprehensive database of police shootings in Florida. It includes demographic information for the people who were shot or killed and the officers involved in the shootings, along with situational information about each case. You can search it by clicking here.

How we categorized cases

Alcohol in system
Person was seen drinking or it was a detail in an autopsy.
Answered door holding a gun
Police said person answered the door with a gun when they knocked.
Appeared mentally unstable
Person's behavior was described by police or others as showing signs of mental instability.
Approached police threateningly
Police said person approached them in a threatening manner.
Armed robbery
Police said person was involved in armed robbery.
Attempted homicide
Police said person had attempted or was attempting to kill someone.
Conflicting accounts
Conflicting details emerged in accounts by police or witnesses, or in other evidence.
Domestic disturbance
Shooting occurred when police responded to a domestic disturbance call.
Drove at officer
Police said person drove toward them.
Drug investigation or narcotics unit
Incident occurred during a drug investigation or narcotics unit was involved.
Drugs in system
Person was reportedly on drugs or it was a detail in an autopsy.
Failed to follow orders
Police said person failed to comply with their orders.
Fleeing scene
Police said person fled police or a crime scene.
Foot pursuit
Police pursued person on foot.
Homicide
Police said person killed someone.
Injured a police officer
Police said person injured a cop during confrontation.
Injured an officer with vehicle
Police said person used a vehicle to injure an officer.
Innocent bystander
Person was not the intended target of the police shooting.
Killed a police officer
Police said person killed an officer during confrontation.
Lawsuit filed
Person or family member filed a civil lawsuit against the police, city or county.
Mental health call
Family or friends asked for help getting someone emergency mental health services.
Mentally ill
Family or friends said person was diagnosed with a mental illness.
Minor offense
Police suspected the person had committed a minor crime, like smoking pot or shoplifting, or said the person was acting suspiciously without committing any crime at all.
Pointed weapon at police
Police said person pointed a firearm at them.
Reaching but unarmed
Police said they thought the person was reaching for a weapon but no weapon was found.
Refused to go to jail
Person told police or others that they would not go to jail or back to prison.
Resisting arrest
Police said person resisted arrest.
Serving a warrant
Police were serving a search or arrest warrant.
Shot at police
Police said person shot at them.
Shot in the back
Person was reportedly shot in the back.
Suicide by cop
Person told police or others that they wanted to die.
SWAT or tactical team
A SWAT or tactical team was involved.
Traffic stop
Police said they stopped the vehicle for a traffic infraction.
Undercover sting
Incident occurred during an undercover sting operation.

Contributors to the database

Ben Montgomery, Natalie Watson, Connie Humburg, Katie Mettler, Carolyn Edds, Caryn Baird, Neil Bedi, Graham Brink, John Timpe, Alexandra Zayas, Bill Duryea, Emily McConville, Adam Hardy, Aunetra Paisley, Alex Rosenthal, Beryl Johnson, Denise Ayora, Joshua Appel, Jasmin Harrell, Jasmin Lankford, Kimberly Cruz, Kirby Wilson, Michael Majchrowicz, Nathan Bond, Niam Naif, Nathaniel Lash, Paige McKenzie, Ryan Black, Sharon Otts, Shaker Samman, Steffan Siebel-Cortopassi, Sam Schmidt, Will Cabaniss, Zach Alexander, Jacqueline Gomez, Thais Leon-Miller, Ryan Black, Jeff Odom, Ariana Matos, Paige Butterfield, Joseph Leathead, Matt Weatherford, Joseph Meier, Alex Rosenthal, Allyson Lanier, Susan Duncan, Lucielle Salomon, Mary Mathews, Allison Leslie, Jessica Prakke, Kimberly Cruz, Allison Lippitt, Adrianna Clark, Christi Owiye, Heather Ward, Doug Calderone, Alexandra Abraham, Wesley Higgins, Anja Weigelt, Stephanie Becerra, April Easterly, Anastasia Dawson, Liandra Larsen, Hayley Phillips, Jason Raven, Grace Huston, Marissa Marshall, Sheila Gray, Josh Appel, Lane Fahey, Matenia Altikatis, Andrew Ferguson, Tiana Aument, Wayne Garcia and Wendy Whitt.

About the reporter

Ben Montgomery is a general assignment reporter based in Tampa. He joined the Times in 2006 after working at several other papers, including the Tampa Tribune. In 2010, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in local reporting and won the Dart Award and Casey Medal for a series called “For Their Own Good,” about abuse at Florida's oldest reform school.

Additional credits

  • Editor: Graham Brink, assistant managing editor for Metro/Business
  • Data analysis: Connie Humburg
  • Video production: Monica Herndon and Danese Kenon
  • Photography: Monica Herndon
  • Story design: Lyra Solochek, Lauren Flannery, Martin Frobisher and Neil Bedi
  • Online database
    and graphics:
    Neil Bedi and Connie Humburg
  • MAP SOURCE: Mapzen, ©OpenStreetMap contributors, Who’s On First