Summary: Many things show the evolution in America of police into security services. Such as their frequent disconnect from the communities they patrol, and their increasing use of military equipment and methods. Perhaps we see this most clearly in their casual use of force, often disproportionate to the situation, with a near-total lack of accountability. Here we examine the grim numbers. We know little, but what we know should disturb us. But it doesn’t, which is an ugly symptom of the Republic’s weakness.
The number of law enforcement officers killed as a result of criminal acts:
- 2004: 57
- 2009: 48
- 2012: 49
- 2013: 27
Number of civilians shot and killed by police:
- USA: 409 (in 2012, per FBI, plus one death by “other weapon”)
- Japan + Britain + Germany = 8
- The US population is 17% larger; US police killed 51x more civilians
In 1994 Congress instructed the Department of Justice to “acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers” and “publish an annual summary”. They’ve ignored this, unlike their lavishly detailed account of law enforcement causalities. The total of 409 comes from voluntary reporting by the 18 thousand US law enforcement agencies. This article at FiveThirtyEight by Reuben Fischer-Baum and Al Johri explains why that is certainly far too low (more details here), and points to more accurate numbers. But we don’t know if the total is rising, or how rapidly.
Given this vacuum, attention has recently turned to some excellent nongovernmental attempts to compile this data, including the Fatal Encounters database, the recently created Gun Violence Archive and a new database created by Deadspin.
But one recent effort stood out for its apparent comprehensiveness: The Killed By Police Facebook page, which aggregates links to news articles on police-related killings and keeps a running tally on the number of victims. The creator of the page does not seek to determine whether police killings are justifiable; each post “merely documents the occurrence of a death.” …