Project expands information available on police lethal force cases

The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign recently released data from a project that counted more than double the number of cases of police use of lethal force as a state-mandated collection.

The SPOTLITE (Systematic Policing Oversight Through Lethal-force Incident Tracking Environment) project documented nearly 700 cases of fatal incidents, involving 734 civilians between 2014 and 2021.

And since the Illinois State Police documented the use of deadly force by police between 2017 and 2020, they have found 146 uses of deadly force by police, while over the same period, the SPOTLITE project found 345 fatal cases.

The project grew out of the 2017 summit involving national police, organizations, advocacy groups and academics to address the lack of an authoritative registry on the use of lethal force by police across the country, said political science professor and project director Scott Althaus, who led interdisciplinary experts. working within the Cline Center for Advanced Social Research at the U of I.

SPOTLITE examines where, when and how often police use lethal force and shows the racial and ethnic origins of the civilians involved.

The aim is to improve accountability to communities and help police be more accountable, see where reform is needed and if it is working, he said.

“The project helps communities better understand when uses of lethal force have occurred, how often they have developed over time, so they can have a clearer picture of whether they see a problem that needs to be resolved, or if they see their local the police seem to be exercising their responsibilities appropriately,” he said.

Of the civilians implicated in Illinois police’s use of lethal force over the past eight years, 61% are black, 21% were white, Hispanic or Latino, and 1% Asian.

“We also hope that as Illinois residents use the spotlight dashboard and can search their own county’s information on the racial and ethnic distribution of civilians who were involved in these incidents, they can better understand the scope and scale of some of the challenges that are being talked about at the national level, that are being talked about at the local level, but often without a shared basis of common interest. said Althaus.

Meanwhile, the project found that of Illinois’ 102 counties, 40% had zero incidents of police use of deadly force during the reporting period. eight years covered. He said, “It’s not something that would be easily picked up from national media coverage.”

“It is a grim task to document these incidents across the state. Today is just the first step in a long series of efforts to try to create a more complete information picture of what is happening around the state,” he said. “Our research has just begun. We are moving towards a fuller story, but we still have a ways to go.”

“I’m sure the Illinois State Police are doing what they can with their available resources. But even the FBI hasn’t been able to build a credible national database using the same type of methods. And that’s where Project Spotlight approaches the problem from a different perspective,” he said.

Althaus notes that 700 law enforcement agencies in Illinois are likely underfunded to report information because the focus is on getting police on the streets.

“So we’re not only seeing under-reporting, among police departments, for police use of lethal force, but we’re seeing the same kind of under-reporting, in crime reporting data, that you’d think police departments would have a strong incentive to publish because it helps communicate the value they create for their communities. »

“We start with reporting on these local incidents and document basic information about where they happened, who were the people involved, etc. from news reports and other credible administrative documents, so that we can gather a much broader picture than these other sources have been able to provide,” he said.

Meanwhile, the project was applauded by the ACLU of Illinois. The group praised the UIUC for “committing resources and manpower to gathering and sharing information with the public about policing.

For too long, news about policing and policing, whether in Illinois or across the United States, has been truly opaque.

“It’s been hard to access and hard to understand more information, better and clearer information available to a wider range of people can truly help residents in every neighborhood in Illinois participate in meaningful discussions about the kind of policing they want for themselves and for their neighbors,” ACLU spokesman Ed Yohnka said. “And it’s really a great contribution to the dialogue around policing both in our state and across the country.”

The goal is to add more data types and expand the project nationwide, which Althaus says will require more funding.
More information can be found on SPOTLITE Dashboard | Cline Center.