Police Shootings

Police and Civilian Outcomes of Threatening Encounters (PACOTE), 2015

In 2015, 1,145 civilians were killed by police officers. In a criminal justice system already fraught with racial, gender, and class bias, it is unclear whether these fatal police shootings were predictable outcomes of the current criminal justice system or if there is something more systemic happening during the threatening interaction between police officers and civilians. Our team seeks to understand the the interactions between police and civilians within the broader context of threatening encounters that lead to fatal and nonfatal outcomes. Our goal is to contribute to the national conversation that currently has very little empirical evidence.

This project, Police and Civilian Outcomes of Threatening Encounters (PACOTE), is building an innovative national database that is positioned to clarify how mechanisms, such as a civilian’s race, do and do not lead to fatal police violence. PACOTE began in 2015 with an identical Google News search conducted every 24 hours to capture online news reports on every possible event in which there was a threatening encounter between police and civilians but that varied in the use of force present in the interaction. This design builds on crowdsourced online databases on deaths by police (such as the British newspaper The Guardian’s database, The Countedand adds comparable nonfatal cases, such as civilian attacks on police officers, arrest events of visibly armed civilians, and nonviolent police reactions. Data collection lasted 13 months and identified 11,638 news articles on more than 5,000 threatening events from 2015. The research team has been organizing and coding these news sources into the PACOTE database, which to date is 25 percent complete.

The research design of PACOTE is novel and distinct from other research on police violence in three important ways. One, unlike internet crowdsourced databases counting only fatalities by police, PACOTE includes a more comprehensive set of threatening events between police officers and civilians to compare nonfatal and nonviolent police responses. The majority of police interactions with civilians do not end violently—and certainly not fatally—which is why it is crucial to understand the strategies that are working to diffuse threats of violence during interactions between police and civilians. Two, PACOTE is national in scope with extensive rural coverage, which is critical to any national conversation on police violence. One concern in police research is the potential for urban selection bias of participating law enforcement agencies. Rural states are not participating in voluntary use of force data collection programs despite having the highest per capita rates of police killings. Three, PACOTE is independent from official law enforcement data that is subject to nondisclosure. Independence from law enforcement agencies has been critical to correcting the annual census of deaths by police. Most police encounters do not result in fatalities, and upon the completion of this database we will have a better understanding of why particular police encounters do.

PACOTE Preliminary Findings

We still have a lot of work to do on the PACOTE Database before our results will be ready for peer review and publication. We have begun analyzing the first quarter of pilot data from PACOTE to examine the role of race across similar events but with divergent outcomes. New to the research on police violence, our current estimates show that about half of threatening events between police and civilians in our sample end with police violence directed at the civilian and about 18% end with fatal police violence.

Even though more white civilians were fatally killed by police in 2015, we find that when Black civilians had threatening interactions with police, the outcomes were more likely to end in violence than in nonviolence compared to whites and Hispanics.

Progress on the PACOTE Database

Quarter 1 2015 (completed)

Quarter 2 2015
(in progress)
Quarter 3 2015
(in progress)
Quarter 4 2015
(in progress)
# of threatening events 1,501  663 514  344
% of events  that ended in violence against civilians 46.6%
% of events that ended in civilian fatalities 17.8%
Table last updated 02/24/2017


This research has received funding from an Individual Research Grant from the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of California, Davis and by a UC Davis Academic Senate Small Research Grant.


Thompson, Matthew J., and Chris M. Smith. 2017. “Citizen Science and Crowdsourced Data Collection, not Government Statistics, Provide the Most Reliable Count of Citizen Fatalities by Police.” The London School of Economics Public Policy Group. USAPP American Politics and Policy Blog, May 5.

Press Mention

Insight with Beth Ruyak, Capital Public Radio, 2018

Institute for Social Sciences, 2018

The California Aggie, 2018

Sociology Toolbox, 2016

Other Databases on Police Violence

Fatal Encounters by D. Brian Burghart

Fatal Force by The Washington Post

Fatal Interactions with Police Study by Washington University in St. Louis

Florida Officer-Involved Shootings 2013-2014 by The Daytona Beach News Journal

Killed by Police

Open Justice by the California Department of Justice

Police Shootings Databases by the Center for Homicide Research

Public Safety Open Data Portal by The Police Foundation
The Police Foundation currently hosts data from President Obama’s Police Data Initiative (PDI) through their Public Safety Open Data Portal.

The Counted by The Guardian

The Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Public Database by Philip M. Stinson

New Research on Police Violence

Banks, Duren, Paul Ruddle, Erin Kennedy, and Michael G. Planty. 2016. “Arrest-Related Deaths Program Redesign Study, 2015–16: Preliminary Findings.” NCJ 250112. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Campbell, Bradley A., Justin Nix, and Edward R. Maguire. 2018. “Is The Number Of Citizens Fatally Shot By Police Increasing In The Post-Ferguson Era?” Crime & Delinquency 64(3):398-420.

Desmond, Matthew, Andrew V. Papachristos, and David S. Kirk. 2016. “Police Violence and Citizen Crime Reporting in the Black Community.” American Sociological Review 81(5):857-76.

Duran, Robert J. 2016. “No Justice, No Peace: Examining Controversial Officer Involved Shootings.” Du Bois Review 13(1):61-83.

Fryer, Roland G. 2016. “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force.” The National Bureau of Economic Research, Working Paper 22399. 

Klinger, David, Richard Rosenfeld, Daniel Isom, and Michael Deckard. 2016. “Race, Crime, and the Micro-Ecology of Deadly Force.” Criminology & Public Policy 15(1):193-222.

Kramer, Rory, Brianna Remster, and Camille Z. Charles. 2017. “Black Lives and Police Tactics Matter.” Contexts 16(3):20-25.

Legewie, Joscha, and Jeffrey Fagan. 2016. “Group Threat, Police Officer Diversity and the Deadly Use of Police Force.” Working paper. Columbia Law School Public & Legal Theory Working Paper Group. Retrieved August 1, 2016

Nix, Justin, Bradley A. Campbell, Edward H. Byers, and Geoffrey P. Alpert. 2017. “A Bird’s Eye View of Civilians Killed by Police in 2015: Further Evidence of Implicit Bias.” Criminology & Public Policy 16(1):309-40.

Ross, Cody. 2015. “A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011-2014.” PLos ONE 10(11).

Sherman, Lawrence W. 2018. “Reducing Fatal Police Shootings as System Crashes: Research, Theory, and Practice.” Annual Review of Criminology 1:431-49.

Zimring, Franklin E. 2017. When Police Kill. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Our team includes:
Chris Smith, Primary Investigator
Matthew Thompson, Graduate Student Researcher
Cierra Bordwine, Research Assistant
Rebekah Reyes, Research Assistant
Lauren Wong, Research Assistant

Former members of the research team include:
Austin Adams, Research Assistant
Jui Apte, Research Assistant
Mattias Arnesson, Research Assistant
Zenjief Del Castillo, Research Assistant
Cat Gilbert, Research Assistant
Jesse Gilgoff, Research Assistant
Matthew Hanna, Research Assistant
Erica Haviland, Research Assistant
Mallory Houston, Research Assistant
Chihta Hsieh, Research Assistant
Jenny Li, Research Assistant
Catherine Ramos, Research Assistant
Timothy Sullivan, Research Assistant
Kevin Tamaki, Research Assistant
Liann Tucker, Research Assistant
Johanna Vega, Research Assistant

Through the PACOTE lab, Chris mentors undergraduate students from underrepresented racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, citizenship, gender, sexual orientation, and first-generation backgrounds to continue diversifying research opportunities for underrepresented groups in the social sciences. Undergraduate students volunteering in the PACOTE lab gain a unique opportunity to work in a university research setting, learn basic spreadsheet and data management skills, and develop their resumes.

IMG_0244Photo by Cristian Lopez-Jimenez (cristianljimenez95@gmail.com).
Members of the PACOTE team, spring 2018.

PACOTE fall17
PACOTE team wrapping up a lab day, fall 2017.

PACOTE Team 2017
Members of the UC Davis PACOTE team, spring 2017.

lab-fall-2016Members of the UC Davis PACOTE team, fall 2016.

Police Lab 2016Members of the UC Davis research team, spring 2016.

Police Lab WorkingThe UC Davis research team building the PACOTE Database, March 2016.