Here’s What We Know About Who Police Killed In 2013

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edited November 2014 in The Social Lounge

Fatal shootings at the hands of police hit a two-decade high in 2013, according to a USA Today analysis of recent Federal Bureau of Investigation data.

A count of “justifiable homicides” in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report found that 461 people were shot and killed by police in 2013. What that figure tells us, more than anything, is that 461 is the bare minimum number of people who were shot by police last year. And it is almost certainly a dramatic under-estimation.

Departments are not required to submit data for this count; it is voluntary. In fact, there are entire states including Florida that didn’t submit their death counts for years. So the increase in 2013 recorded shootings could simply be the result of more jurisdictions reporting. What’s more, the figure is only a count of “justifiable homicides,” which means those that are considered legally defensible. This means jurisdictions are least likely to include those shootings that are subject to criminal scrutiny in their reports.

A St. Louis Post-Dispatch report this week on police shooting data found that out of some 18,000 U.S. police departments, only 1,100 — or six percent of all departments — reported a single fatal police shooting that was considered justifiable between 2005 and 2012. We don’t know whether those who didn’t report simply opted not to report that information, or didn’t have any shootings. University of Nebraska criminologist Samuel Walker lamented that this incomplete and inconsistent data means we don’t even know what to make of the spike in FBI-recorded shootings. “It is irresponsible that we don’t have a complete set of numbers,” he told USA Today. “… This is a scandal.”

We also don’t know much about the circumstances, or even basic profile information of those who died, although some like ProPublica have been working to piece that information together from available data.

ProPublica found last month in an analysis of reported police deaths that black male teens were 21 times more likely to be killed by police than their white counterparts.

Contrast this with data on the other tragedy of policing: when cops are killed on the job. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “the Justice Department keeps careful track of the officers killed in the line of duty and the demographics of the killers.” In 2012, the FBI found that 95 law enforcement officers were killed while on the job, 47 in accidents, and the other 48 by a “felonious act.”


  • janklow
    janklow Members, Moderators Posts: 8,613 Regulator
    someone one day needs to explain to me how crime can go down endlessly for decades while still going up so much they need to ban guns. anyway...
    Violence by Americans Is Down, Unless Those Americans Happen to Be Police Officers
    Earlier in the week, Jesse Walker noted that the latest crime numbers from the FBI show both violent and non-violent crimes declined for 2013, continuing an overall trend briefly interrupted by a small uptick in 2012.

    But as part of that report, the FBI also analyzed fatal police shootings that are ruled justifiable. Based on those numbers, you’d think we were all living in Detroit. Americans are often mistaken in their beliefs that crime is on the rise. But for anybody noticing all the reports about police shooting and killing citizens and thinking this is happening more frequently: You are correct. According to the FBI, police have reached a two-decade high in fatally shooting suspects. Law enforcement officers killed 461 people in 2013. It’s the third year in a row that fatal shootings by police have increased.

    Actually, a correction: We are seeing an increase in the number of killings by police reported to the FBI. The numbers are both self-reported and incomplete. We don’t necessarily have a true, accurate count of how many people have died at the hands of police when those deaths aren’t counted as crimes. From USA Today:

    Criminal justice analysts said the inherent limitations of the database — the killings are self-reported by law enforcement, and not all police agencies participate in the annual counts — continue to frustrate efforts to identify the universe of lethal force incidents involving police.

    University of Nebraska criminologist Samuel Walker said the incomplete nature of the data renders the recent spike in such deaths even more difficult to explain.

    "It could be as simple as more departments are reporting,'' Walker said.

    The Nebraska criminologist has been among the most vocal advocates calling for an all-inclusive national database to closely track deadly force incidents involving police.

    "It is irresponsible that we don't have a complete set of numbers,'' Walker said. "Whether the numbers are up, down or stable, this (national database) needs to be done. ... This is a scandal.''

    A criminologist with the University of South Carolina thinks the actual numbers are higher. He thinks there needs to be a federal mandate for law enforcement agencies to report killings and tie cooperation to eligibility for federal funds. Would that actually make a difference, though?