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The Post’s Fatal Force database honored by Peabody Awards for Digital & Immersive Storytelling

Fatal Force Peabody Winner (The Peabody Awards)

Announcement from Executive Editor Sally Buzbee, Senior Managing Editor Cameron Barr and Investigative Editor Jeff Leen:

The Washington Post’s seven-year effort to track fatal police shootings nationwide has been honored by the Peabody Awards in a newly created category, Digital and Immersive Storytelling. The award was announced today and cites The Post’s innovation going back to 2015 and ongoing commitment to the work. In establishing the new category earlier this month, the Peabody Awards said it intended to honor “a legacy cast of winners, acknowledging their historic, pioneering role in laying the groundwork for projects of today and tomorrow.”

The Post project, “Fatal Force,” was launched in the wake of the 2014 police killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., after then-Post reporter Wes Lowery suggested an attempt to count every fatal police shooting in America. This had never been done before, and was only possible because stories about individual shootings were increasingly available on the Internet.

Scrubbing the web, then-Post researcher Julie Tate and current researcher Jennifer Jenkins found that twice as many people were killed by officers in 2015 than had been reported in any previous year by police departments to the FBI. In that first year, some 70 Post journalists were involved in building an interactive database of the shootings and telling the stories it yielded. For that work, The Washington Post staff received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting. Then-America Editor Lori Montgomery and Deputy Investigations Editor David Fallis launched the effort; Fallis has supervised the project for the entire seven years. John Muyskens built the database with design input from Steven Rich and Ted Mellnik, who have helped to maintain it over the years.

Over that time, The Post has catalogued more than 7,211 fatal shootings by police.

The publicly available database has provided many seminal findings that have been widely cited by other journalists, researchers, educators and government officials: American police officers shoot and kill about 1,000 people a year – a number that stays remarkably stable. Those killed are overwhelmingly male and most of them are armed, usually with a gun. An alarming percentage of the dead – roughly a quarter – are people in the throes of mental or emotional crisis. Black Americans are disproportionately represented among those killed by police. From 2015 to August 2021, more than a third of the unarmed people shot dead by police were Black.

The database has generated numerous additional Post stories over the years. One of the most recent stories found that fatal police shootings hit a record since the count began of 1,055 last year. Criminal justice researchers have used the data to conduct and publish their own analyses. Other journalists have used the data to further examine and write about the use of force by police.

The Post continues the effort in order to provide an important public service. The FBI promised at the end of 2015 to stand up its own program to accurately count fatal shootings. That program, however, took years to get started and, like the one it is replacing, is voluntary and incomplete. No government body tracks the number of people shot and killed by police with any accuracy. To this day, the Post’s database remains the most comprehensive accounting of fatal shootings by police in America. It generates over one million page views a year.

The Peabody Awards are the oldest and one of the most prestigious awards for work in broadcasting and streaming media. In 2021, the Peabody Awards introduced the expansion of its award categories to recognize storytelling achievements across interactive and immersive categories. “Creators have been telling amazingly powerful stories in these formats for a long time now. Peabody is excited to be much more thoughtful and intentional in recognizing them as stories that matter, standing squarely beside the traditional broadcast categories we have long awarded,” said Jeffrey Jones, executive director of Peabody.

Diana Williams, chairwoman of the new Peabody Interactive Board, added: “The works in this new category are fundamentally changing how we engage with storytelling, and therein changing us. It’s imperative that we recognize the projects that have catalyzed and revolutionized how media is seen, understood, engaged with and disseminated. We hope that honoring these legacy winners will continue to push forward our mission of supporting ambitious, groundbreaking creators who strive to make projects with stories that are not only entertaining but can also perhaps prompt visible, societal shifts.”

All winning projects will be featured on the Peabody Awards’ interactive website,, for audiences to explore first-hand and to learn about their historical impact.