How Post reporters went where police rarely go

No one tracks police shootings in Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast.

It’s rare for law enforcement to track police-involved shootings anywhere.

So even before riots swept Ferguson, Mo., in August, The Palm Beach Post and WPTV NewsChannel 5 teamed up to take on an unprecedented assignment: Track every police-involved shooting, from the accidental discharge of a firearm to the slaying of a suspect, since 2000.

Lawrence Mower of The Post and Katie LaGrone of Channel 5 relied on primary source documents, including police reports, internal affairs investigations and state attorney reviews. They reviewed department policies, state and federal lawsuits and investigative reports from the Department of Justice. They used news accounts to supplement the information provided by police agencies under state open records laws.

They repeatedly were forced to return to the agencies to get reports and investigative information missing in initial responses.

They created computer spreadsheets to track every detail from the 256 incidents. They tracked the race of suspects and shooters, the number of shots that hit and those that missed. They worked with Post data editors Michelle Quigley, Melanie Mena and Kavya Sukumar and Channel 5’s Niels Heimeriks to make the data available online.

Adding their expertise on specific assignments were Post reporters Pat Beall and Joe Capozzi and Channel 5 reporter Brian Entin. Photojournalists Jim Sitton of Channel 5 and Thomas Cordy of The Post produced videos and photos.

The reporters shared their findings with experts in the field to compare police actions here with best practices nationwide. They interviewed victims, family members, police officers and police chiefs, including Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw.

They allowed PBSO to review the findings and point out differences, often stemming from different ways of defining an officer-involved shooting. A police shooting, as defined for the news stories, is any incident in which an officer fired a gun, including shootings by off-duty officers. Shootings at animals were not included.

The PBSO review found few differences with The Post/Channel 5 data but the sheriff’s office did not provide details to explain the discrepancies.

Mower, 32, has done this before. His investigation into police shootings in Las Vegas helped bring on a Department of Justice investigation that led to significant department reforms. He grew up in Houston and Las Vegas, worked seven years at the Las Vegas Review Journal and has been a reporter at The Post since March 2013.

LaGrone has investigated several deputy-involved shootings at PBSO, including partnering with The Post to reveal discrepancies in the shooting of Seth Adams, as well as issues with the shootings of Victor Arango and Aldo Alvarez. She also unearthed a document that called for criminal charges against a deputy accused of hitting and killing two fellow deputies in a 2007 crash. LaGrone grew up in South Florida and has been at WPTV since July 2010.

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