Martin Kaste

The recent targeted attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge have law enforcement on edge. Some departments are telling officers to patrol in pairs when possible, and to be extra vigilant about possible ambush.

Complicating matters is the question of how to interpret and react to the presence of a gun. With more Americans now exercising their legal right to carry firearms, police find themselves having to make rapid judgments about whether an armed citizen is a threat.

When you listen to the protesters, the message is clear: They think police are too quick to pull the trigger when faced with potential danger.

The reality is that it's very difficult to tell whether this is something that's changing: The statistics on police use of force in the U.S. are too unreliable to say anything for certain.

Investigators say a young African-American man named Micah Xavier Johnson was the sole attacker in Dallas Thursday night, when he shot 12 police officers, killing five. The attack came at the end of an otherwise peaceful march protesting police shootings.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit NPR.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Future Shock by Alvin Toffler was a huge sensation when it was published in 1970. The book perfectly captured the angst of that time and prepared society for more changes to come. Toffler died on Monday at the age of 87. This story originally aired on July 26, 2010, on All Things Considered.

When cities settle cases of inappropriate or illegal force by police officers, they pay — a lot. Chicago alone has paid out more than half a billion dollars since 2004.

Yet some advocates say all those payouts haven't had much of an effect on policing practices.

The horrific attack at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., has captured the nation's attention, but the great majority of homicides are not due to mass shootings.

And in the last year or so, the murder rate has jumped in America's big cities.

"We are in the midst of a very abrupt, precipitous and large crime increase," says Richard Rosenfeld, a respected criminologist at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. He is the author of a study released Wednesday by the Justice Department examining reasons for the increase.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

During the 2014 Ferguson protests, America woke up to a surprising fact: There are no good national numbers on police conduct. While the federal government collects reasonably accurate crime statistics, it doesn't know much about law enforcement patterns such as racial profiling and police use of force. It turned out even the government's most basic statistic — the number of people killed by police — was way off.

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