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AP unfurls long-in-the-works investigation into ‘lethal restraint’ by police

This combination of photos shows, top row from left, Anthony Timpa, Austin Hunter Turner, Carl Grant, Damien Alvarado, Delbert McNiel and Demetrio Jackson; second row from left, Drew Edwards, Evan Terhune, Giovani Berne, Glenn Ybanez, Ivan Gutzalenko and Mario Clark; bottom row from left, Michael Guillory, Robbin McNeely, Seth Lucas, Steven Bradley Beasley, Taylor Ware and Terrell "Al" Clark. Each died after separate encounters with police in which officers used force that is not supposed to be deadly. AP PHOTO

Anthony Timpa, Austin Hunter Turner, Carl Grant, Damien Alvarado, Delbert McNiel, Demetrio Jackson, Drew Edwards, Evan Terhune, Giovani Berne, Glenn Ybanez, Ivan Gutzalenko Mario Clark, Michael Guillory, Robbin McNeely, Seth Lucas, Steven Bradley Beasley, Taylor Ware, Terrell “Al” Clark

AP compiled and shared the most comprehensive database on a topic of deep national interest, deaths during police restraint, and told engaging stories to illustrate the disturbing trends.

It all began three years ago, born from a call for global investigation proposals of the highest ambition. Along the way, the project picked up several dozen AP journalists across a wide footprint, dozens of students from two journalism schools and PBS’ “Frontline.” Just take a glance at the credits page, which lists around 180 names across organizations. The result was “Lethal Restraint,” a collaborative investigation that used 7,000 public records act requests to document more than 1,000 deaths stemming from police using “less-lethal force” over the course of a decade.

Reporters gathered hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and hundreds of hours of police video. Tracking and analyzing all the information required entirely new project management tools. Reporters logged tens of thousands of data points using the documents and video, much of it exclusive. Fact checkers vetted every footnote before AP shared the database publicly, via an interactive presentation site of uncommon sophistication and quality designed by collaborators at “Frontline.” Photographs of families in key cases humanized victims, while motion graphics illustrated key concepts.

The reporting was unrivaled. The federal government has failed at tracking these deaths. While media have tracked police shootings, and private groups have tracked police killings overall, no one has focused so deeply and so broadly on deaths that didn’t involve a firearm — deaths that can be easier to explain away. Despite suppression of records by police and other authorities, reporters identified hundreds of cases that had never appeared in what limited data the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps on deaths after police encounters. Deep analysis of each case meant the first-day mainbar had both sweep and depth, while the sidebars and second-day stories focused in on the lives and stories of the victims. A narrative built around the death of Austin Hunter Turner in Bristol, Tennessee, received more than four minutes of engagement time per visit over the weekend — an astounding number. A major localization effort included giving members exclusive body camera video specific to their area.

Experts in policing and emergency medicine lauded the work. The head of one policing group, which consults with many of the nation’s largest departments, wrote that AP has “done an incredible job of providing us with important common denominators in these cases. There is a compelling need to update training in this area with the best medical advice and humane de-escalation strategies.” Others who wrote in were researchers who sought access to the full database. “PBS NewsHour” ran a six-minute segment, and the “Frontline” documentary will air April 30.

For a compelling, deeply reported and significant view into the problem of deaths during police restraints, the Lethal Restraint investigations team earns Best of the Week — Second Winner.

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