Police Hide Data About the People They Kill

By Chris Hoenig


Between 2007 and 2012, 1,242 people were killed by police in 105 of the largest police jurisdictions in the country, according to the FBI.

But a Wall Street Journal analysis of those police departments revealed that there were more than 550 police-involved deaths not included in those stats, raising the number killed to more than 1,800.

And that’s just the beginning.

Police departments are not required to report officer-involved deaths to any particular agency. As a result, the true number of Black men and women killed by police every year is impossible to tell.

Albert Jermaine Payton is one of those people. He was 24 years old when he drew a knife in front of Washington, D.C., police officers who shot and killed him. His death was not reported to the FBI.

In the five-year period from 20072012, roughly 2,400 officer-involved deaths were reported to the FBI by 753 different law-enforcement agencies. But there are approximately 18,000 law-enforcement agencies nationwide.

“Does the FBI know every agency in the U.S. that could report but has chosen not to The answer is no,” said Alexia Cooper, a statistician with the Bureau of Justice Statistics who studies the FBI’s data. “What we know is that some places have chosen not to report these, for whatever reason.”

The Bureau of Justice Statistics also collects information on police-involved deaths, as do the Centers for Disease Control. All three entities offer different numbers of people killed every year.

“Although the FBI does have some statistics, most people know that those statistics can’t even be counted upon, because they are self-reported,” CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin said. “So my suggestion has been all along that we need mandatory reporting from our law-enforcement agencies around the country and I think that the number of officer shootings involving young Black males is actually much higher than is even self-reported. That’s something that needs to be part of the conversation.”

Police in Ferguson reported just one justifiable homicide by police officers to the FBI from 1976 to 2012. New York City hasn’t reported a justifiable homicide by a police officer since 2007.

“When cops are killed, there is a very careful account and there’s a national database,” said Jeffrey Fagan, a law professor at Columbia University. “Why not the other side of the ledger”

According to an analysis by ProPublica, Black teenagers are 21 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than white teens are. For every 1 million police killings reported, 31 will be a Black boy or girl 14 years old or younger; only one or two will be a white person who is that young.

When isolated to the 15-to-19-year-old age bracket, where the disparity is at its largest, police officers would have to shoot and kill another white teen every week for three years in order to make the risk faced by Black and white teens equal.

“No question, there are all kinds of racial disparities across our criminal-justice system,” said Colin Loftin, a professor at University at Albany and co-director of the Violence Research Group. “This is one example.”

More than two-thirds of Blacks killed by police officers were shot by a white cop, according to the analysis. White officers accounted for nearly 90 percent of all fatal police-involved shootings. Black officers were most likely to shoot and kill a Black suspect: 78 percent of those killed by Black cops were Black.

The officers who kill these suspects are likely to escape without charges, regardless of the circumstances of the shooting.

In Houston, more than a quarter of the 121 men and women killed by the Houston P.D. in the past five years were unarmed. But the last Houston police officer indicted for an on-duty shooting was in 2004.

Only one Dallas police officer has been indicted for an on-duty shooting since 2008, despite grand juries’ reviewing 81 shootings involving 175 officers.

The last Chicago police officer indicted for an on-duty shooting was in 2007.

You can download the Wall Street Journal’s data from the FBI by clicking here.

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