Tom Baker is getting his PhD in criminology, and as part of his research he's spent hours watching and studying police shootings. "The goal is to identify...things that police are doing that could be changed in some fundamental way, or maybe just tweaked in a slight way, so that you reduce the number of officer-involved shootings and police related deaths," he told me.
This research is personal for Tom. In 2009, while he was working as a police officer in Phoenix, he shot and killed a man while on an off-duty security shift. The killing was determined to be legally justified, but Tom has struggled with it more and more. "You live in a culture where taking a life is the worst thing you can do," Tom told me. "I was trying to do what I thought was the right thing....But then when I didn't feel guilty about it and I didn't feel bad about it, I think the initial thing was feeling, feeling wrong for feeling that way. So feeling guilty for not feeling guilty."
Tom left the police force in 2014. But he remains connected to that community, while also forging new relationships within the academic world. "I feel like I'm sort of like straddling the fault line in our country right now," he said. "I don't know if I'm going to just fall into the chasm."
Police killings are not tracked federally, but are tracked by several organizations, including Mapping Police Violence, Fatal Encounters and The Washington Post. A recent study using data from Fatal Encounters examined the risk of being killed by police use of force by age, race-ethnicity and sex, and found that black men are 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police. And while police killings nationally have remained somewhat steady since 2013, the number of deaths in cities have dipped, while the number of deaths in suburban and rural areas has risen. In 98% of cases since 2013, police faced no charges after killing someone.
To read Tom Baker's article in The Guardian, click here.