Data Reveals More Than Half Police Killings Misclassified or Unreported

October 18, 2021 Criminal Defense, News & Announcements

Altercations between police officers and citizens can lead to extremely tense situations. In the worst of cases, these altercations can result in fatalities. Over the last few years, the United States has seen a rise in violence between cops and members of the community. This has sparked outrage across the nation and has led to movements such as the Black Lives Matter Movement and, on more extreme ends, the support of defunding or eliminating the police altogether.

This is an ongoing issue that will require time and resources in order to mend the relationship between authorities and the people of the nation. One study’s findings exemplify just how prevalent this issue is. This study found evidence that from 1980 to 2018, more than 55% of deaths from police violence were either misclassified or went completely unreported. That results in about 17,000 deaths in total.

This is clearly a huge issue, so it’s important to address it, see what the reactions are, and how to move forward.  

What was the Study Conducted and its Results?

The Lancet—a peer-reviewed journal—completed a data study that compared three non-governmental, open-source databases on police violence: Fatal Encounters, Mapping Police Violence, and The Counted. Open-source databases are used to pull together police-involved incidents from public records and news reports.

What was extracted from each database was the age, sex, state death registration, year of death, race, and ethnicity. The Guardian completed a two-year study called The Counted, a study that revealed the impact of the actual number of people killed by law enforcement. The research uncovered the stories of the people who had been killed and marked incorrectly and established trends in how they died. There is even an interactive map showing the number of people who have been killed by police from 2015-2016.

There were an estimated 30,800 deaths from police violence between 1980 and 2018. This would represent 17,000 more deaths than what was reported by the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS). Some of the evidence showed that the highest age-standardized mortality rate caused by police violence was with non-Hispanic Black people. This was then followed by Hispanic people of any other race, then non-Hispanic White people, and then non-Hispanic people of other races.

In addition, the study found that Black Americans have a higher chance of dying by police than any other group of people. In comparison to White Americans, Black Americans are 3.5 times more likely to be killed by a police officer. Researcher Fablina Sharara from the University of Washington School of Medicine was a co-lead author of the study. She gave the following comment based on the Lancet study:

“Recent high-profile police killings of Black people have drawn worldwide attention to this urgent public health crisis, but the magnitude of this problem can’t be fully understood without reliable data. Inaccurately reporting or misclassifying these deaths further obscures the larger issue of systemic racism that is embedded in many US institutions, including law enforcement. Currently, the same government responsible for this violence is also responsible for reporting on it. Open-sourced data is a more reliable and comprehensive resource to help inform policies that can prevent police violence and save lives.”

What was interpreted from the study was that more than half of the deaths due to police violence estimated in the United States from 1980 to 2018 had gone unreported. In their analysis and final comments, the Lancet addressed that proven health intervention strategies are needed to address the biases in the system. Additionally, improvement in the reporting of police violence needs to be addressed and implemented by State-level authorities in order to provide for change.

What are the Reactions?

In an interview with Time, one of the co-authors of the study, Eve Wool, highlighted that the main issue is the enormity of the police violence going underreported against specific races and ethnicities. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s report is the most expansive on the timeframe of the topic.

It is also worthy to note that the study was published only a week after the bipartisan talk of police reform fell through. The George Floyd Justice in Policing Act was successful in its passing through the House of Representatives in March but has now been stalled in the Senate. The bill was trying to implement a ban on religious and racial profiling by the authorities, set up a national database for police misconduct, overhaul qualified immunity for police officers, and institute other reform efforts. Although the U.S. House passed the act for the second time in March, it is unclear if and when the Senate will make any advances on it. One of the main issues is the subject of qualified immunity, which is a legal shield that causes difficulty in suing police officers for wrongdoings they’ve committed while on the job. A Vox article explains that cases against police officers are difficult to pursue for something like an injury or property damage. Due to qualified immunity, the officer will have had to violate a law that was clearly established in order to successfully take out a civil suit.

Mohsen Naghavi, another co-author of the study, gave the following statement: “Police violence is a public health problem, the same as racism and to fix a public health problem we need very good information. If we do not have correct information all of our [path to address the issue] will go to the outside of the problem.”

The authors of the study propose better training and guidance for medical examiners who oversee classifying the deaths of citizens in altercations with police. There is also a call for more open-source data when looking at the numbers to tally up. What is the impact they want to gain from the study? “This is not a call for more research. We hope that this information can provide states with accurate complete information that can drive policy change,” Wool said in a final statement.

Article Written by Karissa Key

Back to Top