Democracy's Detectives

The path to The Washington Post’s 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into shootings by D.C. police started with something that wasn’t there. A Post database specialist noticed that a FBI homicide report provided no data on justifiable homicides by police.

Reporters went after the data, producing a five-part “Deadly Force” series that precipitated major changes in the D.C. police department that saved lives. It also earned the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The Post’s reporting revealed that D.C. police shot and killed more individuals per resident than police officers in other large U.S. cities, and that a surge in shootings by police coincided with the hiring of many new officers and the introduction of the Glock 9mm in the D.C. police force. My cost-benefit analysis of this project shows that the results of reporting do not come cheaply to news organizations but deliver tremendous value to society.