Safety, justice, and accountability.
These three simple words encapsulate so much complexity about the fundamental principles of our criminal justice system. We all want safe neighborhoods and rely on law enforcement to lead the way. We want justice in the form of a fair and impartial system championed by police and prosecutors. We want accountability for all citizens—civilians and law enforcement alike—that holds everyone legally responsible for their actions. Arguably, no single incident tests these principles and the integrity of our system as much as officer-involved shootings.
The Tampa Bay Times’ extensive investigative report, Why Cops Shoot, demonstrates the difficult intersection between safety, justice, and accountability when there is a police-involved shooting. It identifies many disconcerting statistics about police shootings, starting with the fact that neither the Florida Department of Law Enforcement nor the FBI keeps current statistics. The report identifies the frequency of shootings—one every 2.5 days—as well as the high number of shootings of unarmed victims—nearly 19 percent.
The Times also identifies racial disparities in that minorities, especially black men, are disproportionately victimized. We must understand the data and study how and why shootings occur to prevent them, but this important information sheds light on only part of the issue. Critically, what the data cannot measure is the amount of trust between the community and law enforcement. Moreover, behind every statistic is a community member with the unconditional entitlement to equal protection under the law.
The criminal justice stakeholders are aware of the problems identified in the Times’ report. We don’t dispute the findings; we welcome them into this difficult conversation as a step toward progress. We know that officer-involved shootings can circumvent the due process that our system guarantees. We recognize the need for objectivity in reviewing shootings. We understand the stark reality that a black man is more likely to be shot than his white counterpart.
We recognize these realities, and we are working to address them and making progress. Officer-involved shootings in Hillsborough County rank far below the rest of Florida. Using the Times’ data, Hillsborough’s 39 shootings (over six years) equates to 2.9 shootings per 100,000 residents, approximately 30 percent less than the statewide average of 4.1 shootings per 100,000 residents, and 40 percent less than the 4.8 per 100,000 average for Florida’s other largest counties. But we also recognize that we must continue to improve.
Our law enforcement community is already training officers to use de-escalation techniques and non-lethal force in both the classroom and through advanced simulators. Local law enforcement agencies provide officers with racial sensitivity and implicit bias training. During my first month in office, I began reviewing our agencies’ use of force policies to ensure…