Data on both the number of people killed by the police and the number of police officers killed in the line of duty should be recorded and made available to the general public on a weekly basis. This is the conclusion of a new report published in the journal PLOS Medicine.
Lead author Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in Boston, MA, and colleagues say such information is a “public health concern,” noting that law enforcement-related deaths affect the well-being of the families and communities of the deceased.
“Therefore, law enforcement-related deaths are public health data, not solely criminal justice data,” they add.
Krieger and colleagues say that while the number of police officers killed in the US is well documented – through the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund – the same cannot be said for the number of individuals killed by the police.
The authors note that, at present, the only platform that tracks the number of Americans killed by police officers is a website launched by UK newspaper The Guardian in June 2015, called The Counted.
By drawing on information from “regional news outlets, research groups and open-source reporting projects,” The Counted provides real-time, state-by-state data on the number of Americans killed by police and other law enforcement agencies.
The report authors note that the website reveals more than 500 Americans were killed by police officers between January 1, 2015, and June 9, 2015 – twice the number that would be expected based on estimates by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), which they believe emphasizes the need to collect more accurate data in the US.
“It is startling that we, in the US, must rely on a UK newspaper for systematic timely counts of the number of persons killed by the police,” say Krieger and colleagues.
The authors argue that it is feasible for public health agencies in the US to collect data on the number of people killed by police officers, noting that data on numerous other “notifiable conditions” are already gathered and submitted to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) – information that is made available to the public through a weekly report.
As such, the authors call for data on law enforcement-related deaths – involving both the number of people killed by police and the number of police officers killed in the line of duty – to be deemed as a notifiable condition, meaning such information should be gathered and made available to the public on a weekly basis.
Krieger and colleagues write:
“A policy mechanism already exists. It is time that public health agencies exercise their ability to report to the public, in a timely manner, vital data on law enforcement-related mortality that are critical to the well-being of communities and the body politic itself.”
The authors stress that such data could help prevent future deaths, as well as provide information on racial disparities – an issue that continues to fuel controversy in the US.
In the report, the authors present data that shows the rate of black and white American men aged 15-34 who have been killed by police over the past 50 years. In 1965, black men were eight times more likely to be killed by police than white men. While this rate had fallen by 2005, the data shows that black men were still three times more likely to be killed by police than white men.
“These patterns point to both the persistence of the problem – and the possibilities for change,” the authors note.
In October this year, US Attorney General Loretta Lynch revealed that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will start piloting an open-source platform similar to that used by The Counted in order to track the number of police officer-related deaths.
“Timely public health data on all law-enforcement-related deaths, per that provided by the system of reportable notifiable conditions, will be all the more important for providing a credible source of data and verification, should the proposed DOJ pilot be successful and also sustainable past the upcoming presidential elections in November 2016,” the authors conclude.
Last month, Medical News Today reported on a study claiming that Tasers – currently used by 16,000 police forces over 107 countries – may be more harmful to cardiac health than previously thought.