- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 7, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The separate shooting deaths of two men by police officers in Oklahoma City in the last few days bring to 21 the number of fatal shootings by law enforcement so far this year in Oklahoma, putting the state on pace to easily eclipse its previous high since such records started being kept.

Oklahoma City police say 42-year-old Robert Malone was shot and killed Saturday when he pointed a gun at a police helicopter and responding officers. Then on Monday, an officer shot and killed 20-year-old Tyler Rogers when police say he pointed a gun at officers responding to reports of an auto burglary.

The deaths, which remain under investigation, are the fifth and sixth fatal shootings by officers in Oklahoma City this year and also put the state’s largest city on track for a record-setting year of deadly shootings by police. Since 2010, last year’s nine shooting deaths by police in Oklahoma City was the highest, said police spokesman Capt. Paco Balderrama.

Balderrama said it’s difficult to say with certainty why the numbers are increasing, but that the ease with which criminals can obtain firearms is likely a factor.

Statewide, the 21 shooting deaths by police during the first half of 2015 have almost reached the record 23 shooting deaths in 2014, according to statistics maintained by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation since 2010.

Nationwide, the numbers are more difficult to obtain. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports track justifiable police homicides, but the statistics rely on voluntary reporting by local law enforcement agencies and are incomplete.

“I pay absolutely no mind to the (national) data, because I know it’s so bad that it’s worthless,” said David Klinger, a professor of criminology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who has studied use of deadly force and hopes to get funding for a pilot project that could provide better national statistics.

Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater, whose office reviews every police shooting in the state’s largest county to determine if the use of force is justified, said more armed criminals and an increasing willingness of those criminals to threaten police is behind the sharp increase.

“The reason that there’s an increase in police shootings is because there’s an increase in the number of criminals pointing their weapons at police officers,” said Prater, who spent seven years as a police officer before becoming a prosecutor. “There’s a change in attitude of the criminal on the street. They no longer fear at all raising their weapon and using it against a police officer.”

The uptick in killings comes at a time of increased scrutiny on the deaths of suspects at the hands of police following high-profile cases in communities including Baltimore, Tulsa and Ferguson, Missouri.

While most of the shooting deaths by police are determined to be justified, Prater said there occasionally are cases that merit criminal charges against the officer.

In the April shooting death of an unarmed man during an undercover sting in Tulsa, 73-year-old former reserve deputy Robert Bates, who has said he confused his stun gun with his handgun, has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Prater in Oklahoma County also has pursued criminal charges against officers for using excessive force. Last year, former Del City Police Capt. Randy Harrison was sentenced to four years in prison after Prater secured a first-degree manslaughter conviction against him for shooting an unarmed teenager in the back as he ran away following a scuffle in 2012.

“All these cases turn on their own facts,” Prater said. “Even the one that on its face appears to be a clear-cut case, we still look at it very carefully.”

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Follow Sean Murphy at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy .


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