On Wednesday the University of Texas' Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis debuted a remarkable online tool that catalogs and documents each of the 6,913 people who have been killed by police or while in the custody of a state law enforcement agency since 2005. The deaths can be parsed by gender, ethnicity, year of death, the deceased age, cause of death and the agency that caused or oversaw the death.
“The goal of the initial launch is to make this data and some early findings available to researchers, policymakers, stakeholders and those directly impacted by Texas’ criminal justice system,” says Amanda Woog, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas at Austin’s Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis says. “Too many people are dying, and it’s going to require a collaborative effort to help identify problems and come up with solutions.”
Some of the names are easy to recognize. The only woman killed while in Waller County Sheriff's Office custody since 2005 is Sandra Bland, who made national news when she hung herself following being locked up after what should have been a routine traffic stop. Set the toggles for African-American men killed by the Dallas Police Department, and the figure grows to 59 compared with just 29 white men killed and 24 Hispanics.
Comparisons can be made across the state. For example, Houston Police killed 89 black people over the period surveyed, compared with 40 white people and 55 Hispanic individuals.
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“The unprecedented compilation of data will for the first time permit comparison among jurisdictions’ incidents of custodial deaths over time,” UT law professor Jennifer Laurin said.“Combined with a readily usable format, these contributions put the Texas Justice Initiative on the national vanguard of open data and build accountability and trust between law enforcement and the communities they police.”
California is the only other state with a comparable resource, thanks to its Open Justice system, which requires detailed records be made public for any death in custody.