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AP Exclusive: Accidental shootings show nationwide gap in police training

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A mother shot fatally shot in front of her 3-year-old son. A suspect killed while an officer tried to handcuff him. A Homeland Security agent shot at a Texas high school by a U.S. marshal fumbling with equipment. These are among the more than 1,400 unintentional discharges Seattle reporter Martha Bellisle found in an investigation that highlights the shortcomings of police weapons training.

No agency tracks how often local,state and federal officers accidentally fire their weapons. Over the course of more than a year,Bellisle sent records requests the nation’s 20 largest law enforcement agencies and to police departments in the largest cities in each state. She also scoured media sites and requested information from federal police. Her efforts resulted in the documenting of 1,422 unintentional discharges by 258 law enforcement agencies since 2012. She and West Desk video journalist Krysta Fauria traveled to Iowa to interview the husband of the woman who was killed when an officer’s gun discharged, documenting how he and his children are still scarred by the tragedy.

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In a still frame image taken from video provided by the Texas Rangers, armed officers stand in a hallway at Alpine High School in Alpine, Texas, while responding to a shooting at the school, Sept. 8, 2016. Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Jon Dangle, on floor, was wounded during the response after a gun carried by U.S. Marshal Douglas Mullens, crouching at center, accidentally discharged. – Courtesy of Texas Rangers via A

Bellisle’s story on lax police training, and a sidebar about concerns over arming teachers, were accompanied by a Fauria’s video piece and footage of accidental shootings obtained via records requests. The all-formats package also included a video animation by New York-based Marshall Ritzel of the health and science team,detailing gun safety best practices,narrated by an expert. West Desk editor Katie Oyan was the lead text editor and oversaw presentation,while Seattle photographer Ted Warren anchored the photos and helped source content of shootings, complemented by the work of freelance photographer Matthew Holst who covered the Iowa victim’s husband.

The online package was displayed prominently on major outlets like The Oregonian/OregonLive and The Denver Post and Bellisle was interviewed by member radio station KCBS in San Francisco. The print story appeared on the front page of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids,Iowa,near where the woman was shot in front of her son. Experts and industry officials also reacted to AP’s reporting. Ryan Richette of the company Triggershield,which manufactures gun safety equipment,emailed Bellisle: “We are incredibly thankful for such in-depth and meaningful reporting on this critical issue. Doing so sheds light on a very important problem and,hopefully, succeeds in introducing AN ACTUAL SOLUTION!’’

For an exclusive that sheds light on a virtually undocumented area of firearms safety, Bellisle earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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