Deadly Force: Using Data to Report Accurately on Community Policing

Course Overview

Deadly Force: Using Data to Report Accurately on Community Policing
Self-Directed Course
Time Estimate:
Three to four hours.

About Self-Directed Courses

In a self-directed course, you can start and stop whenever you like, progressing entirely at your own pace and going back as many times as you want to review the material.

News stories of police shootings are commonplace. Often they fit an expected script: Police officer, usually white, shoots unarmed person, usually male and usually African-American, or, at least, nonwhite. Some stories depart from that script. The police officer is a minority, maybe, or the person who is shot was armed or was doing something menacing. Sometimes the story is that the person is not shot.

The thing is, most of the coverage of police use of force is anecdotal. To truly understand the issues, though, a bigger-picture story is needed. This can be told using data.

The data might be national, like the database The Washington Post maintains on police shootings. It can be local, like the data that a reporter in Austin combed through to investigate his story on racial profiling or the data two Tampa reporters examined for their investigation, "How riding your bike can you land you in trouble with the cops — if you're black.

This course will teach you where to find the data you need to tell deeper stories — and what to do with that data once you've got it. It will share examples of data stories on policing that were shared with participants in a 2016 McCormick Specialized Reporting Institute. We'll walk you through those two examples and let you hear from the reporters how the stories came together. We'll let you brainstorm ideas for stories of your own. And we'll provide you with a small database that you can use to practice identifying patterns or anomalies that could lead to story ideas.

What Will I Learn:

On completing Deadly Force, students will be able to:

  • Determine whether a tip or hunch is worth investigating
  • Dig into data to find clues and patterns to develop and investigative story
  • Identify issues that a data pattern, odd detail, or incident raises — and identify stakeholders on all sides of the issue
  • Figure out who to interview and what to ask when starting an investigation
  • Generate ideas for local investigations from national stories or data
Who should take this course:

Journalists, agencies, academic researchers and others interested in the intersection between race and policing in America will gain a deeper understanding of how to evaluate patterns in police stops.

Course Instructors:

Pam Hogle

Pamela Hogle is a freelance writer and editor. She holds master’s degrees in journalism and canine studies. Pam has taught editing at USFSP and worked as a copy editor at The Jerusalem Report and as a technical and marketing writer for NDS Technologies.

Alexandra Zayas

Alexandra Zayas is a senior editor at ProPublica. She spent 12 years at the Tampa Bay Times, ultimately as the newspaper’s enterprise editor. As a reporter, her investigation into abuse at unlicensed religious children’s homes across Florida won the 2013 Selden Ring Award for Investigative Reporting, the Livingston Award for Young Journalists and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. She has served on the National Advisory Board of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies.

Brian Collister

Brian Collister worked as an award-winning investigative reporter with the KXAN Investigative team specializing in uncovering fraud, corruption and government waste. In 2017, Brian's investigation into the racial profiling records of Austin Police and the Texas Department of Safety was recognized with an Alfred I. Dupont - Columbia University Award. The investigation uncovered overwhelming evidence that law enforcement was subverting racial profiling statistics by consistently misreporting the race of minority motorists during traffic stops.

Ashley McBride

Ashley McBride is an interactive learning producer with the News University team at The Poynter Institute, where she facilitates online learning for journalists, news organizations, educators and students.