An AP all-formats package uses data, documents and deep on-the-ground reporting to examine excessive police force against a largely unrecognized group of victims — children.
When San Francisco-based data reporter Camille Fassett obtained from a non-profit a national dataset on police use of force, she and Washington-based law enforcement team leader Colleen Long pored over the numbers. They wanted a new way into the thorny issue of police force, a well-trod topic since George Floyd’s murder. Then Helen Wieffering, a Washington-based investigative fellow, hit on something — the data included numerous instances of force used against teens and kids.
The three set off to take a deeper look, and the results were stunning: Data from 25 police departments showed some 3,000 cases over the past 11 years where police used force against children, some as young as 6. The trio then filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get the reports behind the incidents. They combed through thousands of records, checking with police to confirm the ages weren’t mistakes.
To put faces and voices to the numbers, AP talked to the parents and kids behind the data. The reporters spent months interviewing children, teens and adults — sensitive and difficult interviews with families still struggling with what happened. The team also secured police body camera footage that backed up the stories, and gave police time to respond to the claims.
As they reported, the team discussed how to create an all-formats package with visuals as powerful as the text. The video, raw and powerful, was produced by Serginho Roosblad, using footage the secured by the reporters, while Chicago visual journalists Nam Huh and Teresa Crawford delivered moving, revealing photos.
The result was a remarkable look at how Black and brown children are disproportionately affected by police force.
The deeply reported story had immediate impact with AP readers and customers. Long appeared on “Here & Now,” a radio collaboration between NPR and WBUR, and in an unusual move, the House Judiciary Committee voted to enter the entire AP package into the committee record during an oversight hearing with Attorney General Merrick Garland.
For compelling work that explores a little-recognized aspect of police use of force, the team of Fassett, Long and Wieffering is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.