Contributor Post Created with Sketch. NPR Station’s “Investigation” Goes Where Their Narrative Led Them

 

shutterstock_56280433In recent weeks, Southern California National Public Radio affiliate KPCC produced web and broadcast “analysis” of Officer-Involved Shootings (OIS) in Los Angeles County over the last five years. Their quest, per the website, was to establish “how often” law enforcement shoots suspects in LA County. They did anything but.

The project was built on examinations of the LA County District Attorney’s reports on OIS incidents and coroners’ reports for fatal shootings, and included an extensive database and website, from which were generated radio reports focusing on certain discrete aspects of the data. Having covered use-of-force issues for 20 years, I found the reports were predictably biased with selective, cherry-picked data framed to generate innuendo and misconceptions.

Almost every “Officer-Involved” radio report opened with three facts KPCC “discovered”: A quarter of all people shot by LA law enforcement are unarmed. About 23 percent are black, a number disproportionate to their 8 percent share of the population. And, no officer has been prosecuted for an on-duty shooting in 15 years.

“What’s the solution?” queried the series’ final segment, without specifying the problem to solve. “Is this a problem?” would be the question after an objective look at the facts.

Many of the answers are in plain sight, though unpleasant and ill-fitted to KPCC’s narrative. For example: Much attention was devoted to the disproportion of African Americans killed by the police. Hints of racism peppered the hour-long conversation that Air Talk host Larry Mantle devoted to this issue. Yet it took a caller to Mantle’s show (me) to ask if maybe – just maybe – blacks are disproportionately killed by cops because cop-killers are vastly disproportionately black.

In fact, while blacks make up roughly 12 percent of the US population, 39 percent of cop-killers are black (224 of 563 between 2005 and 2014, according to the FBI). That single omitted fact puts the 23 percent figure in a very different context.

That doesn’t mean biased policing or unjustified shootings never happen. But, each OIS stands alone as a set of facts addressing a specific perceived threat. KPCC made no exploration of the threat aspect whatsoever.

Perhaps the most significant fact is one the KPCC team essentially ignored: OIS are extremely rare. This was allegedly KPCC’s whole point. Their “How We Did It” web page states they “set out to analyze how often on-duty [local law enforcement] shot another person.” But, little reporting explored that question.

Over the five years examined, only 700 of the area’s 25,000 cops were in shootings. That figure was mentioned on just one web page and unmentioned in hours of audio I reviewed. But even 3 percent is extremely misleading.

Consider the LAPD. Their OIS incidents doubled in 2015, to 45. Arrests are down almost 10 percent to roughly 115,000 this year. So, in a time when arrests are shrinking and shootings have exploded, Angelenos still have much less than a 1-in-2,000 chance of being shot by a cop – if arrested. That’s 1/20th of one percent of all arrests.

But, those 115,000 arrests exclude millions of other contacts, like interviews and traffic stops. If each of the LAPD’s 9,878 sworn officers contacted just one person per day this year, there have been over 3 million contacts. Yet, just 45 shootings resulted. The unspoken answer to KPCC’s “how often” question is: “rarely.”

Perhaps most disappointing was KPCC’s wasted chance to truly broaden understanding of the reasons people are shot and the context of the threat to officers. There was no examination of the most critical question: What’s different about the tiny fraction of citizen contacts that result in shootings? There was no examination of use-of-force training content or reporter’s experiences in force simulations.

Presumably they made no such effort. There was no discussion of the threats officers face. There was no mention of the innumerable Internet videos that show both officers shooting suspects and being shot by them, despite the often repeated statement that such videos will shed light on the topic.

KPCC often emphasized that half of the 97 “unarmed” people shot by police had put their hands out of sight or moved toward their waistbands. Mentioned only once was this key statistic: Police shot 148 people who failed to show their hands or made such movements. Of them, 101 were actually armed. So, shooting someone who won’t show their hands is often a sound decision.

The reports made mention that in 320 of the 375 incidents reviewed, officers did not use any other weapons first. There was no exploration of how often use of another weapon was practical in terms of timing, threat or availability. Regardless, they tossed out the figure absent any context.

Equally ignored was the key driver of every shooting – the consequence of not shooting. The line between being killed, killing an assailant and a controversial tragedy is frightfully thin and grey – and fundamental to the issue.

If KPCC wanted build understanding of why shooting an unarmed person may be legally justifiable, it needed only review the January video of Flagstaff, AZ officer Tyler Stewart’s murder. He was shot in a fraction of a second by a suspect whose hands were stuffed in his pockets – seconds after denying he was armed. Comparing this video to that of the 2013 killing of an unarmed man by Gardena Police (who clearly reached to his waistband) or 12-year-old Cleveland resident Tamir Rice would be enlightening. But, no.

Similarly, KPCC offered no “analysis” of data reflecting the dynamics of shootings, like elapsed time from when an officer sees a suspect to the actual shooting. Often, this is mere seconds, providing a sense of how rapidly these engagements develop and why split-second decisions are necessary and necessarily imperfect.

KPCC is right about one thing. The data is not uniform and is hard to assemble. But misrepresenting and omitting facts to create more misperception is worse than having no data at all.

There are 46 comments.

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  1. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thanks for the information and perspective.

    • #1
    • November 28, 2015, at 11:13 AM PST
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  2. Pilgrim Thatcher
    PilgrimJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    This deserves wide distribution. I hope that you have offered a version as an op ed to the LATIMES and requested time to respond on KPCC.

    • #2
    • November 28, 2015, at 11:34 AM PST
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  3. Susan Quinn Contributor

    I visited the KPCC site once when I lived in CA. They depicted George Bush wearing a court jester’s costume. The reporting team should try it on for size.

    • #3
    • November 28, 2015, at 12:27 PM PST
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  4. Robert C. J. Parry Contributor
    Robert C. J. Parry

    Pilgrim:This deserves wide distribution. I hope that you have offered a version as an op ed to the LATIMES and requested time to respond on KPCC.

    I submitted it to KPCC and received no response.

    • #4
    • November 28, 2015, at 1:44 PM PST
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  5. Matty Van Member

    How about the LATimes and other media, even outside the LA area? This piece needs to be seen far beyond the tiny if excellent group at Ricochet.

    • #5
    • November 28, 2015, at 2:31 PM PST
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  6. GrannyDude Member

    Thank you for posting this. The bizarre inability of NPR to report completely or fairly about law enforcement is what drew me away from my usual liberal haunts and toward—among other “places” —Ricochet.

    But it still really surprises and bothers me. Maybe it shouldn’t, but it does.

    • #6
    • November 28, 2015, at 3:16 PM PST
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  7. cdor Member
    cdorJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Excellent piece (Officer?) Robert Parry. They don’t want to know the truth, they can’t handle the truth. A big question is on them… why are the progressives so intent on dishonoring and deprecating our police that they would go to such lengths to ignore all the good done, all the lives saved, all the sacrifices rendered and instead focus so obviously and blatantly on the tiny percentage of error or even outright wrongdoing? Do they want anarchy? Without cops, that is what we will have. Police are human. They have their bad days, sour moments. As citizens we all must recognize this possibility and realize that cops have an awesome power. In interfacing, I always tread lightly and show great respect. The job we hire the police to do is extremely difficult and dangerous. We must remember that they put their lives on the line every day they go to work. So, assuming you are in law enforcement, Mr. Parry, I thank you for what you do.

    • #7
    • November 28, 2015, at 3:37 PM PST
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  8. Larry Koler Inactive

    Robert C. J. Parry: Perhaps most disappointing was KPCC’s wasted chance to truly broaden understanding of the reasons people are shot and the context of the threat to officers.

    Broadening understanding is not the de facto charter for all public broadcasting. They see their charter as bringing left-wing views to their listeners and that is not helped by a broader understanding. We all pay for public broadcasting but it serves only a small select audience of the far left. And, so this means that they have always supported the Democratic Party (even though the Party isn’t left-wing enough for them) because it is the party most amenable to their views. But, of course, the public broadcasting project is a Democratic Party project.

    It all fits together if you look at it just right.

    • #8
    • November 28, 2015, at 4:38 PM PST
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  9. Man With the Axe Member

    I’ll always remember the NPR commentator one Sunday morning while the Obamacare debate was going on in congress. He said, “I don’t understand how anyone could oppose free health care.” I almost drove off the road, I was laughing so hard.

    Remember “Family Ties?” The father, Steven, was a public television station manager. He was the archetypal liberal. His son, Alex P. Keaton, played by the great Michael J. Fox, argued rings around his old man every week.

    • #9
    • November 28, 2015, at 5:27 PM PST
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  10. Ball Diamond Ball Inactive

    I bet there are numbers somewhere, broken down by race, on who runs and who stays put upon contact.
    This to me is the great discriminant. Escalate on contact goes poorly for the citizen, which is why it is 100% the wrong answer. This is a culture clash, and white progressives are to blame.

    • #10
    • November 28, 2015, at 6:27 PM PST
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  11. Freesmith Inactive

    Just remember, folks, that a truly conservative administration would know exactly what to do with NPR and the CPB.

    And no, that wouldn’t mean shutting it down out of some abstract principle that government shouldn’t be in the news business. That idea, analogous to preaching non-violence to someone who has been beating you for 40 years, only leaves you bloody and battered. It won’t stop it from happening again, either.

    The correct way to handle NPR would be to dismiss everyone employed there and replace them, at extraordinarily high salaries, with aggressively conservative and free market hosts, reporters and production people who actually liked the American people and its mainstream culture. The terminated liberals would squeal, but the ratings would doubtless go up. Conservatives would use the tools of the Left against the Left for a change.

    That’s how you make someone stop hitting you – You teach him how much it hurts.

    • #11
    • November 28, 2015, at 6:41 PM PST
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  12. Douglas Inactive

    Susan the Buju:I visited the KPCC site once when I lived in CA. They depicted George Bush wearing a court jester’s costume. The reporting team should try it on for size.

    I despise the public broadcast system, NPR being a big reason why. They’re taxpayer-subsidized broadcasts for the Democratic Party.

    • #12
    • November 28, 2015, at 7:45 PM PST
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  13. Douglas Inactive

    Freesmith:

    That’s how you make someone stop hitting you – You teach him how much it hurts.

    I’d mod you up, except on further review, I can’t agree with that. Even if a President Cruz or Trump did that, the next time a liberal won, he’d do the same thing; clear out the staff and turn it into a liberal megaphone all over again.

    Nope, the only way to handle the CPB is dismantle it, fire all staff, put the physical assets…. buildings, studios, and equipment…. up for sale, then auction off the bandwidth publicly to the highest bidders. Kill it with markets, and scatter the remnants to the winds. The equivalent of the Romans salting the land at Carthage after the second-go-round, so that there’ll never be a third.

    • #13
    • November 28, 2015, at 7:50 PM PST
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  14. Doug Watt Moderator

    I can only say that in most officer shooting situations seconds count. Like any profession there are officers that should not have been given a badge. They are a small minority. My first question to a journalist would be did you read the Grand Jury transcript on a police shooting? I can assure you that most journalists have not.

    I had someone start pulling a pistol out of his waistband on a traffic stop. I was close enough to him that I could pin him to the hood of car. I told him to let go of the pistol and he didn’t. I kept pounding his head on the hood of his car until he let go of the pistol. It wasn’t very pretty. I was fortunate because cell phone cameras did not exist. He was fortunate because if he had been another foot and a half way from me I would have blown him away.

    I can understand why that might offend some people, but I really see no need to apologize.

    • #14
    • November 28, 2015, at 8:49 PM PST
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  15. Metalheaddoc Member
    MetalheaddocJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Investigations go so much smoother when you already know the endpoint you want to reach. Makes it easier to interpret the data when you already know your conclusion.

    • #15
    • November 28, 2015, at 9:58 PM PST
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  16. Larry Koler Inactive

    I agree about dismantling NPR and Public Broadcasting. They have broken faith with the American people and failed in their charter. It is wrong for public money to be directed to only one party. It’s promote the “general” welfare. That means it’s for everyone.

    • #16
    • November 28, 2015, at 10:55 PM PST
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  17. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Once we replace our LEOs with an all black force this issue will go away.

    • #17
    • November 28, 2015, at 11:05 PM PST
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  18. drlorentz Member
    drlorentzJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Robert C. J. Parry: Hints of racism peppered the hour-long conversation that Air Talk host Larry Mantle devoted to this issue. Yet it took a caller to Mantle’s show (me) to ask if maybe – just maybe – blacks are disproportionately killed by cops because cop-killers are vastly disproportionately black.

    I used to listen to Larry Mantle’s show years ago. He always seemed fair and without obvious bias. It’s dismaying, albeit interesting, to see that he’s gone over to the dark side. Is it just me or has NPR become more openly biased over the years? It doesn’t seem like they were so bad 10 or 20 years ago.

    • #18
    • November 28, 2015, at 11:30 PM PST
    • Like
  19. Robert C. J. Parry Contributor
    Robert C. J. Parry

    Matty Van:How about the LATimes and other media, even outside the LA area? This piece needs to be seen far beyond the tiny if excellent group at Ricochet.

    No… I’ve been published by the LA Times (in fact, criticizing the LA Times), but I don;t think a critique of another entity would pass muster there.

    • #19
    • November 28, 2015, at 11:45 PM PST
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  20. Douglas Inactive

    drlorentz:

    I used to listen to Larry Mantle’s show years ago. He always seemed fair and without obvious bias. It’s dismaying, albeit interesting, to see that he’s gone over to the dark side. Is it just me or has NPR become more openly biased over the years? It doesn’t seem like they were so bad 10 or 20 years ago.

    Every few years I’ll give them a fresh listen because someone tells me “Really, it’s quality radio, and they’re not that bad”. Then I’ll listen and, sure enough, they’re even more smug and politicized than last time.

    • #20
    • November 28, 2015, at 11:51 PM PST
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  21. Man With the Axe Member

    Two words: Garrison Keillor

    • #21
    • November 29, 2015, at 4:07 AM PST
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  22. Kozak Member
    KozakJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Douglas:

    Susan the Buju:I visited the KPCC site once when I lived in CA. They depicted George Bush wearing a court jester’s costume. The reporting team should try it on for size.

    I despise the public broadcast system, NPR being a big reason why. They’re taxpayer-subsidized broadcasts for the Democratic Party.

    Public radio and television have long outlived their need. With the thousands of tv channels and options of satellite radio, internet streaming etc for radio, public funding needs to end. Let the Left fund it’s own organs of propaganda. I’m tired of paying for it. Are you listening GOP? (Of course not).

    • #22
    • November 29, 2015, at 5:23 AM PST
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  23. I Walton Member

    Why is it impossible to kill tax payer support in the digital age when it has become impossible to justify. On long distance trips I always listened to NPR in spite of the irritations because it’s impossible to listen to talk radio for long and the only other stations one can receive feature southern preachers and sports, and in the mid west hog reports. Now I have podcasts, Ricochet, Econ Talk, Uncommon knowledge, and when my wife wakes up, books on tape.

    • #23
    • November 29, 2015, at 5:40 AM PST
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  24. EJHill Podcaster
    EJHillJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    No NPR report has ever started with the words, “We were surprised to learn…” The closest they come is their favorite word of the Obama era: “unexpected.” As in “The Islamic State showed the unexpected ability to strike…” or “The economy showed an unexpected weakness…”

    • #24
    • November 29, 2015, at 6:49 AM PST
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  25. Robert C. J. Parry Contributor
    Robert C. J. Parry

    drlorentz:

    Robert C. J. Parry: Hints of racism peppered the hour-long conversation that Air Talk host Larry Mantle devoted to this issue. Yet it took a caller to Mantle’s show (me) to ask if maybe – just maybe – blacks are disproportionately killed by cops because cop-killers are vastly disproportionately black.

    I used to listen to Larry Mantle’s show years ago. He always seemed fair and without obvious bias. It’s dismaying, albeit interesting, to see that he’s gone over to the dark side. Is it just me or has NPR become more openly biased over the years? It doesn’t seem like they were so bad 10 or 20 years ago.

    I will give Mr. Mantle credit for at least asking challenging questions of both sides. But hosting a conversation on that topic without the full context is fairly ridiculous.

    • #25
    • November 29, 2015, at 7:04 AM PST
    • Like
  26. Doug Watt Moderator

    One more albeit small quibble about journalists. They use the term “bullet-proof vest”. They are “bullet-resistant” not “bullet-proof”.

    • #26
    • November 29, 2015, at 7:10 AM PST
    • Like
  27. Doug Watt Moderator

    Robert C. J. Parry:The reports made mention that in 320 of the 375 incidents reviewed, officers did not use any other weapons first. There was no exploration of how often use of another weapon was practical in terms of timing, threat or availability.

    If KPCC wanted to produce a news piece rather than an opinion piece they could have had one of their reporters ride with an LAPD officer for three or four nights. One of their reporters could have made arrangements to speak with or attend a training session with an LAPD defensive tactics instructor.

    Most police agencies require that you have a cover officer with you if you deploy your Taser. Your cover officer’s gun hand is free while you have the Taser in your gun hand. The barbs don’t always penetrate the skin depending upon the clothing the subject is wearing. Some subjects are ready to fight again as soon as the electrical charge ends.

    The baton has drawbacks as well. Some subjects that are intoxicated whether on drugs or alcohol can endure multiple baton strikes. If someone is high on meth or PCP they exhibit abnormal strength and baton strikes become virtually useless.

    As Mr. Parry states each OIS has a specific set of facts. There are no hypotheticals. There are no referees when you have to fight with someone. It’s not an Olympic sport.

    • #27
    • November 29, 2015, at 7:53 AM PST
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  28. Freesmith Inactive

    Douglas:

    Freesmith:

    That’s how you make someone stop hitting you – You teach him how much it hurts.

    I’d mod you up, except on further review, I can’t agree with that. Even if a President Cruz or Trump did that, the next time a liberal won, he’d do the same thing; clear out the staff and turn it into a liberal megaphone all over again.

    Nope, the only way to handle the CPB is dismantle it, fire all staff, put the physical assets…. buildings, studios, and equipment…. up for sale, then auction off the bandwidth publicly to the highest bidders. Kill it with markets, and scatter the remnants to the winds. The equivalent of the Romans salting the land at Carthage after the second-go-round, so that there’ll never be a third.

    Your analogy is faulty on two counts.

    1. The Romans terminated Carthage as an enemy, but the city became a prosperous part of the Roman Empire for centuries. They converted it to an asset.

    2. The Left is “Carthage;” the CPB is one of the Left’s weapons, not the enemy itself. Dismantling the CPB rather than utilizing it is akin to the Romans agreeing to disarmament with Hannibal after Cannae.

    What a great plan: Take a beating from someone, then destroy instead of use the weapon you’ve taken from him and expect he won’t look for another first chance he gets. But why won’t he? What’s the downside?

    • #28
    • November 29, 2015, at 1:24 PM PST
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  29. Brian Clendinen Member
    Brian ClendinenJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    1/20th of 1% seems a fairly high ratio to me. How does that compare to the national average? I know LA has its problems and I would expect shooting’s to be higher per capita but that stat to see if L.A. is worse unless you compare it to national averages. Yes I agree seconds matter; but cops way over exaggerate how dangerous of a job they really have when it look at actual injury rates, so I am more concern are they able to identify the exceptions not the norm. Yes a vast majority of shooting are perfectly justifiable, I am more concern the lack of the culture of honesty with to many cops and how to many departments let them get away with it (even though most don’t). So how much of the data do you think is junk? I know it is just a reflection of our society but I think there should be a lot larger push to punish dishonest behavior because if someone is going to be dishonest in little things they are going to be dishonest with something major happens. It would be interesting to see how much of the data is backed by multiple sources verse just the cops report.

    I just have seen to many third party studies that take a look at the accuracy of the crime data and find specific types of data full of junk information. Granted some of the studies are older and only look at one state so one state is not necessarily reflected of L.A. but it just makes me wonder when you have so few data points, what was massaged.

    Overall I agree the NPR report was a hack job, but that was more because they do not understand now to analysis data in a honest manner. When you have an agenda the adage is true often, “There’s lies, there’s dam lies, and there’s statistics.”

    • #29
    • November 29, 2015, at 7:14 PM PST
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  30. Fake John/Jane Galt Coolidge

    Look NPR is effectively a government sponsored enterprise. It’s agenda is influenced by the what the federal government wants. It seems that the federal government wishes to attack local area LEOs. My guess is that the agenda is for a Feds to eventually take over of local police functions.

    • #30
    • November 29, 2015, at 7:47 PM PST
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