FRONTLINE: Shots Fired
Premieres Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021 at 10 p.m. on KPBS TV + Thursday, Nov. 25 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2 / On Demand
With police shootings in Utah reaching record highs amid a nationwide debate over police accountability, FRONTLINE and The Salt Lake Tribune present "Shots Fired": the first nationally broadcast documentary stemming from FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative, an innovative effort to support and strengthen investigative reporting in communities around the country.
The film offers a one-of-a-kind look at police shootings in Utah over the past decade, drawing on a unique database begun by The Salt Lake Tribune and expanded with FRONTLINE’s assistance over the past year. A series of stories co-published by the two organizations beginning in January of 2021 has already sparked calls for better data collection and more transparency about when officers shoot, who and why.
“At a time when no government entity was tracking police shootings in Utah in a comprehensive way, we were proud to partner with The Salt Lake Tribune to address an unmet need — this is the sort of accountability reporting that our Local Journalism Initiative seeks to bolster in communities where news organizations have been hit hard by financial and other pressures,” says FRONTLINE Executive Producer Raney Aronson-Rath.
“Tribune reporters have focused on police shootings for years and I’m proud of this important journalism,” said Tribune Executive Editor Lauren Gustus. “Our partnership with FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative gave us the ability to greatly expand this work leading to new insights into why police shoot.”
In reporting "Shots Fired," FRONTLINE and The Salt Lake Tribune sought to identify and analyze patterns and factors that go into when police fire their weapons, fatally or not. The two organizations filed hundreds of records requests; combed through court documents, 911 transcripts, internal investigations and media reports; examined body camera footage; and spoke to law enforcement officials, experts, and families of people shot by police.
In some cases, the data is incomplete and the numbers too small to draw broad conclusions. But as the film explores, the vast majority of the 226 shootings FRONTLINE and The Salt Lake Tribune documented over the past decade had one thing in common: they were ruled justified.
Among the additional findings: Racial and ethnic minorities were disproportionately represented; more than 40 percent of people shot at were identified by police or families to have had a mental health issue, mental disability or been suicidal; 34 Utah officers have been involved in at least two shootings; and many of the officers who fired their weapons cited their training.
"Shots Fired" explores these findings through the lens of several recent shootings and through interviews with key law enforcement officials in the state. The film also draws on unique access to Utah’s police training program, and the trainers who run it, to try to see what role it plays in shootings.
Earlier this year, Utah lawmakers passed bills that provide more de-escalation and mental health training to police and require agencies to collect more data on use of force, including every time an officer points a weapon at someone.
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A FRONTLINE production with Five O’Clock Films. The writer, producer and director is Abby Ellis. The reporters are Taylor Eldridge, Paighten Harkens, Jessica Miller, Muna Mohamed and Sam Stecklow. The senior producer is Frank Koughan. The executive producer of FRONTLINE is Raney Aronson-Rath.
FRONTLINE’s Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and is based in FRONTLINE’s newsroom at GBH in Boston. The initiative provides support to selected local news organizations annually to produce a specific investigative journalism project and also aims to increase diverse representation in newsrooms and thoughtful coverage of underserved communities. Current Local Journalism Initiative partners include the Tampa Bay Times in Florida, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, The Public’s Radio in Rhode Island, The Salt Lake Tribune in Utah; and The Texas Newsroom.