ANCHORAGE — Anchorage police officers fired their guns on 45 occasions in the line of duty over a 20-year period, according to a new study of local police shootings.
The study, whose findings were publicly released Wednesday, was conducted by the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center and looked at the period between January 1993 and mid-May 2013.
The study was commissioned by the Anchorage Police Department, the Anchorage Daily News reported. The research cost the city $8,000, according to Police Chief Mark Mew.
Among other findings from the study, officers never shot at anyone who was unarmed or not using a vehicle as a weapon. The study also found that the majority of shootings occurred north of Tudor Road and that officers fired three or fewer shots in about half of the cases.
Also according to the study, white men are the most common racial group to get fired upon. Pacific Islanders and African-Americans, however, were involved in disproportionately more incidents.
The years with the most police shootings were 2012 and 2013, with five each. Three suspects shot by police have died in 2013, while two of the shootings in 2012 were fatal.
There have been more police shootings in recent years compared with other years. But Justice Center professor Troy Payne said researchers were unable to show whether there was a statistically relevant change over the years.
“It’s sort of all over the place. Which is what we would expect with a rare phenomenon,” Payne said. “When you’re talking about something that occurs between zero times and five times per year, there’s going to be some fluctuation in that, and there’s just not enough variability to have consistent trends.”
Payne said a difference of one or two shootings from one year to the next results in a large increase statistically. But it does not prove there is a trend.
The study did not aim to explain why police shootings occur. Instead, it was focused on describing incidents to help citizens and police understand them better, according to Mew and Payne.
Future research will likely look at factors triggering a police shooting. Mew said he has asked officers to submit examples of situations where they felt justified in shooting their weapons but chose not to.
The Police Department has changed its policy on using lethal force when someone drives a vehicle at or near an officer. Officers have been instructed not to shoot suspects using vehicles as weapons if the vehicle is the only weapon involved, the chief said.
“No matter what those numbers are, we want to bring them down. I’d like to have no shootings,” Mew said. “I don’t know that we’ll ever get to a place where police never shoot anybody, ever, for 20 years. But I’d like to have more zeros, ones and twos, and less fours and fives.”