The Star compared police-involved shooting data from 11 cities that are considered Kansas City’s peers or had populations under 1 million.
Only Fresno, Calif., had more fatal police shootings than Kansas City from 2005 through 2014. Per capita, only St. Louis and Cleveland recorded more.
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Kansas City police killed at a 10-year rate of 9.3 people per 100,000 residents from 2005 through 2014. That was three times the rate in Sacramento, Calif., and more than double what Denver reported.
Police and criminologists caution that demographics, crime rates, size of the police force, quality of hospital trauma units, drug and mental health problems, and gun ownership all play a role. Police departments may differ in how they report officer-involved shootings.
Cleveland and St. Louis have higher rates of both violent crime and fatal police shootings than Kansas City, according to 2014 data.
Denver has a lower violent crime rate and fewer police-involved shootings. But other cities don’t always follow the same pattern.
In some cases, the numbers are too small for meaningful analysis. Kansas City averages about four fatal police shootings a year, but if one of those people survived — a difference of a half inch or a half second — it would be a 25 percent drop.
Experts say shooting data should take into account nonfatal injuries as well as deaths.
In Portland, Ore., city auditors compared raw numbers of shootings, fatal and nonfatal, by police over five years among 15 cities, all larger than Kansas City.
Kansas City had more than all except Washington, D.C., and Milwaukee.
Kansas City police officers shot 103 people since 2005, killing 47. Denver police shot 62 and killed 31 in a city with about 193,000 more people.
The federal government hasn’t tracked fatal police shootings, although the FBI plans to begin keeping a count by 2017.
The Guardian newspaper counted 1,134 people killed by police in the U.S. in 2015. Police nationally killed black people at more than twice the rate of whites. In Kansas City, nearly 60 percent of those killed were black.
“Lord have mercy,” said Vernon Howard Jr., senior pastor at St. Mark Union Church and president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Greater Kansas City.
“I think this speaks to the institutional and structural and systemic racism that we experience as a people,” he said.
[Explore the data: See The Star’s analysis of 47 fatal police-involved shootings, with details of each death.]
But Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté, who has headed the department for nearly four years, said it was individuals’ behavior, not race, that led to their deaths.
“We’re going to engage at the level necessary,” the chief said. “We’re not worried about what the press is going to say. We’re not worried about everybody else. We want to go home, and we want to go home safely.
“It’s not just for us. If you have a knife-wielding or a gun-wielding person out there, it’s to protect the people we’re sworn to protect. We’re here to do a job.”
[Mental health: Read about Kansas Citians whose mental health crises ended in tragedy.]
[Costly lawsuits: In the 1990s, police paid for the fatal actions of officers in two cases.]
The Star’s Glenn E. Rice contributed to this report.
How we did it
The Star began compiling a database of fatal shootings by Kansas City police in 2005. In recent months, the newspaper obtained more details from police, including the race and level of experience of the officers. The Star included a shooting by an officer on a federal task force and another by an officer working off duty. The Star interviewed family members of those killed, witnesses and police officials, and it reviewed hundreds of pages of police reports and court documents. To make a comparison with relevant cities, The Star took police shooting data from cities identified as peers by law enforcement and cities of roughly similar size. The results are not intended as a scientific study. The Star also interviewed criminologists and civilian oversight professionals from around the country.