Shootings by police show their evolution into “security services”. It’s bad news for the Republic

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.

Lethal Weapons
Lethal Weapons“, The Economist, 23 August 2014


The number of law enforcement officers killed as a result of criminal acts:

  1. 2004: 57
  2. 2009: 48
  3. 2012: 49
  4. 2013: 27

There are 885 thousand law enforcement officers in America, as of 2008 (120 thousand Federal, 765 thousand State/local). That’s a death rate from criminals of 3 per hundred thousand per year.

Number of civilians shot and killed by police:

  1. USA: 409 (in 2012, per FBI, plus one death by “other weapon”)
  2. Japan + Britain + Germany = 8
  3. The US population is 17% larger; US police killed 51x more civilians

British police fired their guns 3 times in 2012.

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.” …


Eagle Scales Of Justice
He’s unhappy with us

Killed by Police had listed more than 1,450 deaths caused by law-enforcement officers since its launch, on May 1, 2013, through Sunday. That works out to about three per day, or 1,100 a year. … By the narrowest measure possible — in which we give police every benefit of the “cause of death” doubt in incidents where they Tasered or restrained suspects – 85% of the sampled incidents were the sort of police killings the government might be expected to keep track of. If we include other arrest-related deaths (and they’re included in Bureau of Justice figures), then 93% of incidents qualified as police killings.

Applying these percentages to the total count at Killed By Police would imply that officers acting in the line of duty have killed in the neighborhood of 1,250 to 1,350 people since May 1, 2013. That’s about 1,000 deaths per year.

So the graph at the top of this post should be redrawn so that the big blue circle is 2.5x larger. Yes, America is exceptional in many ways.  The always interesting draws a logical and important conclusion from these numbers:

Unfortunately, the most important implication of the FBI report is the simple fact that the report exists. When the FBI takes the time to construct a meticulous report (you can read more details here) of all the ways that a tiny percentage of cops were killed but cannot be bothered to officially count civilian deaths at the hands of cops, the reality is obvious:

The government places a higher priority on their own than on the lives of those they claim to “serve,” “protect,” and “work for.” It cares more about exonerating the police of their crimes than providing justice to those they abuse. There is no justice when the criminal is the cop.

One of the many bits of evidence that Ferguson has changed nothing: “Obama resists demands to curtail police militarisation calling instead for improved officer training“, The Guardian, 1 December 2014.

Update: supporting evidence from the Wall Street Journal

Today they ran “Hundreds of Police Killings Are Uncounted in Federal Stats“. Their survey confirms the above information. Excerpt:

FBI Data Differs from Local Counts on Justifiable Homicides

… A Wall Street Journal analysis of the latest data from 105 of the country’s largest police agencies found more than 550 police killings during those years were missing from the national tally or, in a few dozen cases, not attributed to the agency involved. The result: It is nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police each year.

Danger: Police in Area

For More Information

(a)  See all posts about…

  1. Guns and gun rights
  2. Reforming America, paths to political change

(b)  About police, law enforcement, and the security services:

  1. How to Fund an American Police State (aka Weaponizing the Body Politic), 5 March 2012 — Militarizing the police
  2. We are alone in the defense of the Republic, 5 July 2012
  3. Do not talk to the police (important advice in New America), 4 August 2013
  4. Look at the protests in Wisconsin to see how America has changed, 31 August 2013
  5. Murder by police. If these incidents do not anger us, then what will?, 19 January 2014
  6. Why America has militarized its police and crushes protests, 16 August 2014
  7. Police grow more powerful; the Republic slides another step into darkness. Can cellphone cameras save us?, 28 August 2014
  8. The shame of Alaska: vast wealth, but little spent to protect its people, 15 September 2014

(c)  About justice in America:

  1. Sparks of justice still live in America – cherish them and perhaps they’ll spread, 11 September 2009
  2. An opportunity to look in the mirror, to more clearly see America, 10 November 2009 — About our prisons
  3. Being a third world nation is a state of mind, as we will learn (about prison rape), 19 March 2011
  4. Our prisons are a mirror showing the soul of America.  It’s not a pretty picture., 28 March 2011
  5. The Collapse of American Criminal Justice System — Excerpts from The Collapse of American Criminal Justice by William J. Stuntz
  6. More about the collapse of the American Criminal Justice System, 20 September 2011
  7. Final thoughts about America’s Criminal Justice System, 21 September 2011
  8. Richard Castle shows us the dark reality of justice in 21st C America, 28 May 2014



14 thoughts on “Shootings by police show their evolution into “security services”. It’s bad news for the Republic”

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  2. Of course, in each and every one of those 400 – 1000 killings per year, the officers involved show tremendous restraint, only using force as a last resort. They don’t confront the suspect without first conducting a thorough investigation, collecting evidence, background checks, and getting a warrant. During the confrontation, after immediately identifying themselves as officers of the law, they spend time trying to talk the guy down, they issue a multitude of warnings, appeals to the person’s better nature, anything they can do to avoid having to take a life.

    “Come on man, we’ve got our guns pointed at you. There are more cops outside, and you won’t get away. Just put the weapon down. You don’t want to do this. Think about your family. If you just drop the weapon now, and come in quietly, the judge might give you leniency. You know this isn’t the right thing to do.”

    But still, even after all the patience, mercy, and pleas for non-violence, the suspect is just too much of a hardened criminal, too set in his thug-like ways, that he still tries to attack. He raises his gun and lunges at the officers. Most of the time, when this happens, the officers use their superior training to knock the gun out of the guy’s hand and wrestle him to the ground. Sometimes they choose to shoot the guy in a less-lethal spot like the leg or shoulder, and he survives to go to trial. Every so often though, when the criminal is so evil, and presents such an overwhelming threat, they regretfully have no choice but to use deadly force.

    At least, that’s how it always happens on TV crime dramas, which is where most of white America gets its understanding of how confrontations with law enforcement typically occur.

    1. Todd,

      That’s an important I’ve often touched upon, but not highlighted. We are far too easily influenced by TV and films. All these police procedurals have the realism of Bugs Bunny cartoons, but shape people’s beliefs.

      Police are evaluated by tickets issued, crimes closed. So they issue tickets and arrest innocent people. Not all, but very often. Cases reviewed by the Innocence Project often reveal criminal negligence — or deliberate criminal behavior — by police and DAs.

      Crime labs are not staffed by people with an advanced degree in one of the relevant sciences (they often have minimal training), and they lack the for the detailed painstaking analysis seen on TV. Corruption scandals are common.

      On TV the bad guys usually shoot first, and police reply only when necessary. In fact police often shoot unarmed people as a first reaction, when there was no threat (or often no opportunity for the person to escape).

      Internal Affairs units are strict agents of justice, feared if not hated by cops. In fact they are gentle minders, often acting as defenders of police behavior.

      Police unions are almost invisible on TV, where are they loom large when police use violence — and even when they commit crimes.

      I could go on, but this gives a feel for the scale of the propaganda on the tube every night.

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  4. Count the deaths, it like cuts through so much of the hot air and nonsense. Death is mostly pretty hard to fake. . That antimedia site is onto something — really why don’t we know how many people have been killed by police? This is a devastating point.

  5. America’s gullible media also bear a heavy responsibility for police militarization & exoneration of their crimes. The article “The superpredator myth, 20 years later,” deals with the long process of debunking the New York Times’ scare headlines after so-called “superpredators” back in the 1990s. These supervillain criminals, mostly kids, allegedly had their brains damaged by crack used by their pregnant mothers and as a result the “superpredators” could leap tall buildings in a single bound, change the course of mighty rivers, and suchlike hysteria.

    …influential criminologists in the 1990s issued predictions of a coming wave of “superpredators”: “radically impulsive, brutally remorseless” “elementary school youngsters who pack guns instead of lunches” and “have absolutely no respect for human life.” Much of this frightening imagery was racially coded.

    In 1995, John DiIulio, a professor at Princeton who coined the term “superpredator,” predicted that the number of juveniles in custody would increase three-fold in the coming years and that, by 2010, there would be “an estimated 270,000 more young predators on the streets than in 1990.” Criminologist James Fox joined in the rhetoric, saying publicly, “Unless we act today, we’re going to have a bloodbath when these kids grow up.”

    These predictions set off a panic, fueled by highly publicized heinous crimes committed by juvenile offenders, which led nearly every state to pass legislation between 1992 and 1999 that dramatically increased the treatment of juveniles as adults for purposes of sentencing and punishment.

    As DiIulio and Fox themselves later admitted, the prediction of a juvenile superpredator epidemic turned out to be wrong. In fact, violent juvenile crime rates had already started to fall in the mid-1990’s. By 2000, the juvenile homicide rate stabilized below the 1985 level.

    [Source: “The superpredator myth, 20 years later,” op. cit.]

    The American press had a responsibility to ask some skeptical questions about this nonsense — of course, they didn’t.

    1. Thomas,

      I’m writing a post now about another media sensation about crime — nicely timed to super-charge a media narrative designed to force reshaping our society.

      Yes, we are guillable. We fall for these info ops again and again and again. Why don’t we learn?

      I wonder in dark moments if we remain capable of self-government.

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