After discovering there is no comprehensive, national database on people killed by police, D. Brian Burghart, editor of Reno News & Review and Reynolds School of Journalism graduate student, took on the effort to fill the void. Burghart is using crowd sourcing to create a database of the number and circumstances of people killed by police nationwide, and the work - which is Burghart's graduate studies project - is catching notice nationally. Burghart appeared on The Daily Show Oct. 7, 2014, to comment on his project, Fatal Encounters, as part of a story on the topic. His project has also been cited in stories by the Washington Post and CNN.
"I've been a journalist for more than 20 years," Burghart said prior to his Daily Show appearance. "When I realized that this data didn't exist I decided to use what I was learning at the Reynolds School to begin creating the database."
Burghart said, "It started with a simple question: How often does that happen?"
In The Daily Show piece, "A Shot in the Dark," Senior Correspondent Samantha Bee pursued the same question, blending substantive interviews with the show's trademark brand of humor.
To guide his project, Burghart outlined what he calls "a simple three-year, three-step plan." He began in 2013 by requesting information from every law enforcement agency to create a national database, and began the process of comparing and contrasting the information across agencies. In 2014, he created an online and searchable database and began publishing data in the Reno News & Review. He will continue data analysis in 2015 and will also encourage free-with-attribution publication and use of the data.
To sustain the project after this initial three-year phase is complete, Burghart intends to lobby Congress to require police departments to report the information and the Department of Justice to maintain it.
Burghart said Reynolds School professors Caesar Andrews, Donica Mensing, Alan Deutschman, Mignon Fogarty, Larry Dailey, Howard Goldbaum and former Professor David Ryfe helped him inform the protocol needed to create Fatal Encounters.
"When Brian came to me and told me the idea for his graduate project, I couldn't believe such a thing didn't already exist," Mensing said. "I spent several hours looking online after our conversation and was shocked that I couldn't find anything. The events in Ferguson have multiplied that shock across the country. His work really is groundbreaking."
Burghart said all aspects of his project were influenced by the Reynolds School.
"I took Alan's class on data journalism where I learned about mapping," he said. "David Ryfe taught me about non-profit journalism - how to ask for donations, etc., and Donica taught me about social media. Howard helped me with video production and Mignon helped me learn how to make the site more entrepreneurial. She taught me about trademarking and the different aspects of the business side of the project."
Burghart is taking Mignon Fogarty's media entrepreneurship class this semester.
"I've been talking with Brian about the future of Fatal Encounters," Fogarty said. "Brian is fun to work with and even more, he's an inspiration. It's easy to become cynical and think one person can't make a difference, but then you meet someone like Brian, and you realize there is still hope for the world."
Burghart's goal is to have other journalists across the country add context to every incident and story that includes someone who died during interaction with police.
In addition to being a Reynolds School of Journalism graduate student, Burghart has taught a variety of courses as an adjunct faculty member for the Reynolds School since 2006. He is also enrolled in the University's English master's program for fun. He recently wrote about his reaction to the invitation to appear on The Daily Show in his Reno News & Review editor's column.