The latest in-depth analysis of legal police stop and search incidents comes at a time when the police are under the highest scrutiny. The report gives new insight into racial differences in injury and death rates and discusses why they might occur.
Although police officers are taught to use force that matches the level of the suspect’s resistance, the number of deaths at police hands is a hot topic.
This week, the results of the latest study examining the numbers behind these incidents are published in the journal Injury Prevention.
According to the findings, in 2012, the United States police killed or injured 55,400 people in legal stop and search incidents.
Dr. Ted Miller, from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calverton, MD, set out to investigate any racial differences in the numbers of these “legal interventions” and whether they ended in injury or death.
The team extended current understanding of this issue by examining injuries from arrests, stop and searches, and traffic stops.
Data were taken from a number of sources, including the 2012 Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project nationwide inpatient and emergency department samples; the Vital Statistics Mortality Census; two censuses of deaths commissioned by newspapers; FBI arrest reports from 2012 and 2014; and the Police Public Contact Survey from 2011.
Overall, in 2012, there were 12.3 million arrests, 2.8 million street stop and searches, and 1 million traffic stops.
These legal interventions led to 54,400 hospitalizations and around 1,000 fatalities. An estimated 1 in 291 stops/arrests ended in either death or an injury that required treatment; this equates to 34 per 10,000 stops/arrests.
The vast majority of deaths – 95 percent – were due to firearms, along with around one quarter of hospital admissions. Nearly all of the remaining deaths were taser-related; of 1,700 taser incidents, 65 ended in hospitalization, and 48 were fatal. The majority of non-fatal injuries were from blunt objects or blows.
Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans were found to have higher stop/arrest rates per 10,000 individuals than whites and Asians. The data also showed that blacks were the most likely to be stopped and arrested – 1,404 per 10,000, compared with whites at 355 per 100,000.
Blacks were found to die at the hands of the police more often than whites. However, the data also showed that blacks were no less likely to be killed or injured during a legal intervention incident than whites. The ratio of 34 injuries/deaths per 10,000 stops/arrests was, according to the authors: “Surprisingly consistent by race/ethnicity.”
Young people were more likely to be arrested than older people, peaking between the ages of 15 -29. However, the percentage of police interactions that ended in death was highest in people over 65 years old – 3.5 percent of injuries ended in a fatality, compared with 1.9 percent of 21-29-year-olds.
This is thought to be due to the frailer nature of individuals in the older age category; brittler bones and other age-related conditions make relatively minor interactions more likely to cause serious injuries.
The authors conclude that the higher number of black deaths and injuries might be due to a more excessive exposure to these police interventions. The authors say:
“Consistent with our findings, simulation studies find police are no more likely to fire on unarmed blacks than unarmed whites, and high rates of black speeding citations per capita result from high violation rates.”
Although blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics are more likely to be stopped, they are no more likely to be injured during the stop than whites, say the authors. But, because they are stopped more frequently, the occurrence of injuries and deaths, overall, is more pronounced.
They continue: “Given a national history of racism, the excess per capita death rate of blacks from U.S. police action rightly concerns policy analysts, advocates, and the press. The excess appears to reflect exposure. Blacks are arrested more often than whites, and youth more often than the elderly.”
The findings come at a time when public scrutiny of police behavior is at its height. The researchers hope that their findings might spark an education drive:
“As the U.S. struggles to reduce citizen injuries during police contacts, it would seem prudent to train at-risk groups about appropriate behavior during police stops.”