Never believe the initial police reports of shootings

Take a moment to read this initial police report filed immediately after an incident.

On Monday evening, shortly after 8:00 pm, officers from the Minneapolis Police Department responded to the 3700 block of Chicago Avenue South on a report of a forgery in progress. Officers were advised that the suspect was sitting on top of a blue car and appeared to be under the influence.

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car. He was ordered to step from his car. After he got out, he physically resisted officers. Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress. Officers called for an ambulance. He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

At no time were weapons of any type used by anyone involved in this incident.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been called in to investigate this incident at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department.

No officers were injured in the incident.

Body worn cameras were on and activated during this incident.

Apart from the mentions of Hennepin County and Minneapolis and the forgery, there is nothing that would alert a reader that this bland police report was about George Floyd’s horrific murder by Derek Chauvin, one of the police officers at the scene, while three other officers stood by to prevent bystanders from intervening. We are given inconsequential details such as the color of the car but nothing about how Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for over nine minutes, slowly squeezing the life out of him.

Here is another event where the police misled the public.

Just after midnight on June 1, 2020, at the height of the protests over the killing of Breonna Taylor, a group of military trucks carrying police officers and National Guard members pulled up to an intersection in West Louisville. They had just received an order to clear the lot of Dino’s, a popular corner store where people tended to gather on weekends. 

As law enforcement, many dressed in full riot gear, walked through the lot, one officer crossed the street and began firing pepper balls at a group of people at a barbecue restaurant owned by David McAtee. Minutes later, around 20 bullets had been fired, and McAtee was dead. 

In the 11 months since the incident, the police department has kept most of its investigation from the public and pushed an official narrative: that police went there to disperse the last large crowd of protests, and that officers returned fire after McAtee fired first. But an investigation by VICE News, based on unreleased internal documents, body camera footage, and accounts from multiple inside sources with direct knowledge, shows that the chaotic situation that ended in McAtee’s death was created by the police, which fired pepper balls indiscriminately at bystanders on private property. 

LMPD has repeatedly misrepresented the narrative of that night, according to multiple sources who say there was no intelligence that showed protesters were regrouping at this intersection, or that the parking lot at the gas station looked any different from any other night and needed a heavily armed detail of officers and National Guard to clear it. 

The order to deploy to the intersection seemed like an obvious “power play,” according to one high-ranking officer. It set off a series of events that ended with McAtee being shot in the chest, and even some of the highest-ranking members of the LMPD considered it unnecessary.

“It was a flex of the muscle,” said another high-ranking LMPD officer.

This deliberate misleading of the public by the police is all too common. Here is another report flagged by Chris Quinn, editor of

Consider the shooting of a Cleveland man by a Drug Enforcement Administration agent this month. 
The man arrived home and found two strangers sitting in a car in front of his house – a house that had been hit by stray gunshots in recent years. I think any of us would be perturbed by strangers sitting in a car in front of our houses. In many neighborhoods, if you were perturbed enough, you’d call the police. In this neighborhood, though, people don’t always trust police. 
The man approached the two men in the car and, according to the police, raised his shirt to show he had a gun in his waistband, and one of the DEA agents jumped out and shot him.
Now get this: when police wrote a report on the incident, they listed the DEA agent as the crime victim. The DEA released a statement saying he “actively brandished” his gun at the agent. Look up the definition of brandish. Lifting your shirt to reveal a gun doesn’t fit it. And then the man who had been shot was charged with menacing and carrying a concealed weapon.
The DEA had the audacity during a press conference the night of the shooting to say gunfire was exchanged. It’s not true. But it was reported as if it were. The DEA also suggested that the man might have been attempting a carjacking or a robbery with no evidence of that.

The police know that the media usually comes to them first for information and thus they can frame the narrative so that the all-important first impressions that the public gets is in their favor and becomes hard to change later.

So how can news reporters better combat this deliberate misinformation by police? Quinn suggests some ways.

In newsrooms across the country, we are working to change our approach to situations like this. One way is by getting other people involved to talk to us. That can be hard. People don’t always trust us, in part because of the relationship we have with police.

The police versions can be subtle in how they mislead, too. Columbus police shot and killed a 16-year-old girl this week. But when the mayor discussed it, he called her a young woman. She was not a young woman. She was a teenager. A juvenile. A kid. Did calling her a young woman somehow lessen the horror of her homicide?
How often, after police kill someone, do you hear or see news reports about a “police-involved shooting.” That’s how police describe it, and reporters for too long have used that wording. It’s the antiseptic way to avoid saying police shot and killed someone. 
Think about it. If a drug dealer shoots and kills someone, do you think the police report says “drug dealer-involved shooting?” Have you ever heard the phrase “carjacker-involved shooting?” Of course not. In those cases, police say the drug dealer, the gang member or the carjacker shot and killed someone. They reserve the antiseptic language for themselves, and too many reporters then use it.

Quinn says that reporters need to get away from excessive dependence from police reports for both the facts of the case and the way things are worded.

As consumers of news we can play our part by being skeptical of any reports of police-related incidents that have just the police as sources and wait for a fuller picture to emerge before forming any major conclusions.


  1. johnson catman says

    If not for the ubiquitous presence of cell phones with the ability to record video, there would be no changes in the narratives because the police would control the information. With video recorders in practically everyone’s hands, they cannot control the information anymore, and the real truth has been emerging: the police are power-hungry authoritarians who love to hurt people.

  2. garnetstar says

    @1 Absolutely. Think how many decades (centuries?) this has been going on, and it would continue just as always without the recordings. Those were the only things that dragged police departments (kicking and screaming) to get car cameras and then body cameras (which the police seem to ignore the presence of, because they still, as you say, control the information.)

    I, for one, was not aware of how blatantly they lie on their reports. And, the white public would just continue to simply not believe the eyewitness reports of what the police did, and still place unquestioning faith in their reports.

    One good effect of society’s change to phone ubiquity, which in itself outweighs all the bad ones.

  3. says

    It’s probably already a crime to falsify reports of a crime, and that’s what’s going on.

    For a police manager to say “I simply accepted my officer’s report” is not good enough, apparently. There ought to be a required review for any incident involving violence, and the chain of command ought to sign off on the officer’s report. There’s too many incidents of officers claiming things that are obviously lies -- there clearly needs to be oversight, but the whole barrel of apples has gone bad and they’re covering eachothers’ asses not trying to get at the truth of whatever happened in any particular incident. Or, as is more often the case, the hierarchy is trying to protect malefactor cops. This shit’s a disgrace and, yes, it plays right into the argument that “all cops are bastards.”

  4. sonofrojblake says

    Following the recent Makhia Bryant case, I’d alter the headline to:
    Never believe the initial reports of shootings.

    Come to that -- never believe the initial reports of ANYTHING. Why would you? Gather evidence, then decide.[footnote: obvious exception for cases where women have alleged sexual assault.]

    The lesson of the Bryant case was that SJWs are just as capable as the police of weaving a false narrative that paints victims as potential perpetrators (I’m thinking in this case of the girl in pink who was just about to be stabbed when Bryant was shot) and actual crims as blameless innocents. I only knew enough to say that because I looked at the evidence, i.e. more than one video showing what happened. And as I said at the time -- WHEN the evidence exonerates police, they’ll get that evidence out in front of the public REAL fast. So be immediately suspicious if they don’t, and instead trot out anodyne “police involved shooting” type bollocks.

  5. mnb0 says

    These reports show the most effective way of lying: tell the truth, nothing but the truth but avoid the whole truth like the plague. My advise is quite different. Believe everything that’s in the report and assume there’s a lot unfavourable stuff that remains unreported.

  6. Holms says

    If someone dies from a police officer’s actions, that alone should cast the officer as the defendant in a new murder investigation.

  7. robert79 says

    @6 “If someone dies from a police officer’s actions, that alone should cast the officer as the defendant in a new murder investigation.”

    I completely agree, body/car cam footage should be enough to easily prove their innocence (if they are), and this will encourage police to actually turn the damn things on.

    Aside from that I think all body/car cam footage by police officers should be publicly available (possibly with the faces of non-police blurred, as that would probably violate some privacy laws), and reporters should look at it.

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