Data matters

Samuel Sinyangwe is a data scientist and policy analyst for the Black Lives Matter movement. He's a Stanford grad and an architect of Mapping Police Violence and of Campaign Zero (, an effort to reduce the number of people killed by police to zero. He will lecture at 7 p.m. Oct. 23, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Nevada and at 6 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Knowledge Center at the University of Nevada, Reno.

From 2008 and 2014 the FBI reported an average of 419 people a year killed by police. Your group—and Brian Burghart’s Fatal Encounters—found more like 1200 to 1300 a year. What’s the discrepancy in 2016?

The FBI has not reported 2016 numbers yet, but they have also acknowledged they have yet to implement a new system of collecting data. So that discrepancy should persist. According to [FBI] Director [James] Comey, they are planning to implement a new system in 2017.

You recommended policy changes to police in Orlando. How did they respond?

So, what we proposed were pretty far reaching and comprehensive changes that we believe can actually reduce and actually eliminate police violence. They tried to explain away the problem. But to their credit, in the weeks following they actually implemented some changes. …

They made two changes that we’re aware of, a new requirement to the use-of-force policy to intervene and stop a fellow officer from using force, and report that officer—and a new standard required minimum use of force required to apprehend a suspect.

You’ve met with Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to discuss policy issues. What were those conversations like?

Initially, Bernie Sanders was kind of rigid and pushed back on a lot of proposals that we offered, but eventually we were able to really connect this issue to his core issues, [such as] socioeconomic inequality. … With Hillary Clinton, the meeting was fascinating because she came into that meeting really just wanting to listen, but we came into that meeting expecting her to already have clear position on these issues and the ability to give us clear and specific answers around what she wanted to do. We would ask, “What do you mean specifically around demilitarization of the police?” … She took it under advice. But what we have seen is, since that meeting she has embraced a number of recommendations that we’ve made. … That is a good sign.

How are police doing in Reno? Do you know?

That’s a good question. Let me figure that out. [Pauses to look up data.] So, in Reno we have—wow, I didn’t even realize this. This is really problematic. I didn’t realize it was this intense. … Of the hundred largest cities in America, Reno has the 12th highest rate of police killings, which is really problematic. Zooming out a little bit more, Nevada has the fourth highest killings of any state.

Why is that?

We looked at eight policies that are often recommended as solutions to reducing police violence because they impose restrictions on how police use force. They’re things like requiring officers to issue a verbal warning before shooting anybody, or requiring officers to deescalate when possible, limiting deadly force to situations when all other means have been exhausted. The average of the largest departments have three of these requirements. Reno Police Department has none.