A report from KilledByPolice.net, a website that tracks police killings, indicates that the number of such killings is up as compared to last year. According to the site, police have killed 884 people as of September 26, 2017. Over the same period in 2016, police had killed 867 people.
The slight rise in police related fatalities doesn’t tell the whole story, though. The Washington Post, which also maintains a count of police killings, indicated that the numbers as of July 2017 were nearly identical to the same period in 2016. The rise in fatalities reported by KilledByPolice.net is bad, but what is worse is that the numbers are not going down.
This is despite the visibility that nationwide protests and calls for reform have brought to the issue. Indeed, President Trump’s skirmishes with the NFL over player protests has put police violence on the front page of almost every newspaper. Some law enforcement agencies have responded by taking steps to curb the violence by police, yet little has changed.
“These numbers show us that officer-involved shootings are constant over time,” University of South Carolina criminologist Geoffrey Alpert told the Post. “Some places go up, some go down, but it’s averaging out. This is our society in the 21st century.”
Data gathered by the Post highlight some disturbing aspects of police shootings that continue to remain unchanged. While the greatest number of those killed by police were white men armed with a weapon, police continue to kill a disproportionately larger number of black males. Black men account for almost 25 percent of police fatalities, but only constitute 6 percent of the national population.
Mental illness also plays a significant part in police killings. According to the Post, about a quarter of those killed by police suffered from some sort of mental illness.
KilledByPolice.net and the Post rely on local news coverage, public records and social media for their data. This is because there is no central government tracking of these killings. While the FBI does gather information on fatal police shootings, the information must be voluntarily reported by police agencies, and only covers police killings involving victims who were committing felonies. As such, the FBI’s numbers are much lower, and likely inaccurate.
Darrell Stephens, executive director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, helped the FBI develop a new data collection program. He told the Post that it is important that authorities understand the number and nature of these killings.
“When a police officer takes a life, that’s a significant event,” said Stephens. “We should know on a national basis how many times that happens and under what circumstances.”
Some experts believe that even a robust, government operated tracking system for police killings isn’t enough. After all, criminal justice professor David A. Klinger told the Post, fatal shootings by police are rare.
“What we really need to know is how many times police shoot people, not just how many of the people die,” said Klinger.
Sources: www.washingtonpost.com, , https://newsmaven.io/keynewsnetwork/.
Originally published in Criminal Legal News on February 22, 2018.