Most of those shot by law enforcement officers in Tarrant County during the first seven months of 2016 were white, which reflects the county’s population percentages, records show.
The Star-Telegram contacted 38 law enforcement agencies in Tarrant County, requesting information on the number of times guns were discharged by officers.
Through July, officers had fired their guns 27 times, shooting 11 men, the records show. Of those:
▪ 10 were carrying a weapon;
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▪ 7 were white and four were killed;
▪ 2 were black and none were killed;
▪ 2 were Hispanic and both were killed;
Most of the other shots fired by officers were at animals, often dangerous dogs, but also included a wild hog and an alligator. Three other firearm discharges were either accidental or undetermined.
Star-Telegram reporting shows that since July, police have fired their weapons at least eight more times, including seven times at men, four of them white. One white man was killed and another white man killed himself.
Former Fort Worth police Chief Jeff Halstead said he’s not surprised that the figures run counter to reports from some other cities that show disproportionate numbers of African-Americans being shot by police.
“I think there is a different story here than there is in other parts of the U.S.,” Halstead said. “The negative trends and the challenges involving race and deadly force are not the case here in Tarrant County.”
While community policing has become a focus of many departments in Tarrant County, Halstead called for additional police officer training and conversations with the residents they serve. Because police are imperfect and some interactions will inevitably be unpleasant, Halstead suggested that individuals can help ensure more peaceful encounters.
“Think about this: Ninety-five to 98 percent of all police ‘use of force’ incidents can be eliminated if every resident would simply obey every command given by every law enforcement officer,” Halstead said. “If there was truly a trend where every resident simply raised their hands and did everything an officer said to them, there would be no use of force other than handcuffing.”
Others who looked at the statistics contend that conclusions cannot be drawn from just seven months and that there are other forms of force that should be considered.
“This should not be taken out of context,” said Gary Bledsoe, Texas NAACP president. “The numbers are encouraging to a degree. But in order to understand what’s happening we have to dig a lot deeper. We are isolating this from the use of force or even deadly force. Sometimes the use of deadly force does not require a weapon.”
Shootings mirror population trends
Among those fatally shot in Tarrant County this year:
▪ Michael Brown, 25, allegedly hit an elderly man and the man’s wife with with his fist and threw each of them to the ground in the 700 block of Meadowdale Drive in Saginaw on Jan. 30. Brown, who was unarmed, was shot with a Taser and when that failed, he was fatally wounded by gunfire after he continued to approach police officers. He was white.
▪ Jorge Brian Gonzalez, 22, a mentally ill drug addict, was released from the Euless Jail on the morning of March 3. A few hours later he ambushed and killed Euless police officer David Hofer before being shot and killed by police. He was Hispanic.
▪ Ed R. McIver, 42, led police on a chase on March 15 and after ditching his SUV ran into a wooded area in far west Fort Worth, where he shot and critically wounded officer Matt Pearce. McIver, who had a lengthy criminal past, was shot and killed by police. He was white.
The races of the men shot are similar to the population percentages of Tarrant County.
Tarrant County is 49 percent white, according to 2015 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, and 64 percent of the people during the first seven months shot were white.
Blacks make up 16 percent of the county’s population and 18 percent of those shot in the first seven months were black. For Hispanics, the percentages were 28 percent and 18 percent, respectively.
Officers receive extensive training on how to handle a variety of situations they encounter including the application and use of force, Lt. Christopher Cook, Arlington police spokesman said in an emailed statement.
“The preservation of life is paramount in any peace officer’s duties,” Cook said. “Officers formulate and tailor their responses to handle an incident and use only the amount of force necessary to mitigate an incident, make an arrest, or protect themselves or others from harm.”
‘We are not reactionaries’
African-American activists in Tarrant County had mixed reactions to the Star-Telegram database.
Alisa Simmons, Arlington NAACP president, said officers should be held to a higher standard and protect the rights of individuals. Simmons said the NAACP is concerned about the needless shooting of any resident, not just African-Americans.
“Government is here to protect our rights, not violate our rights,” Simmons said. “It seems that at any time our rights can be violated by police and then various laws and policies are used to justify their conduct rather than hold them accountable.”
Eddie Griffin, an African-American activist who frequently blogs about racial issues in North Texas, said he is encouraged that only 28 weapon discharge incidents were found in Tarrant County in seven months.
The figures paint a different picture of law enforcement than the image of the trigger-happy cop sometimes portrayed after shooting incidents, Griffin said.
While it would take only one perceived unjustified shooting to bring out the entire African-American community, Griffin said that perhaps people in Tarrant County’s African-American communities have shown more restraint.
“People have this misconception that every time a white police officer shoots a black man the black community will go wild,” Griffin said. “We are not reactionaries. Find out what really happened first. We have open lines of communication with police. Most black communities don’t.”
Staff writer Azia Branson contributed to this report.