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Study Finds Over Half Of Police Killings In US Are Not Reported in Government Data

According to a study released Thursday, more than half of police killings in the U.S. are not reported in the official government data, and Black Americans are most likely to go through fatal police violence.

As per the peer-reviewed study by more than 90 collaborators and published in the Lancet, one of the world’s oldest and most renowned medical journals, 55% of deaths due to police violence from 1980 to 2018 were either misclassified or unreported in official vital statistics reports.

There have already been studies before that found similar underreporting rates, but the recent study is the longest one at present.

Researchers compared data from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System, an inter-governmental system that gathers death certificates, to other three open-source databases on fatal police violence, namely Fatal Encounters, Mapping Police Violence, and The Counted. The archives gather details and information from different news reports and public record requests.

17,100 Deaths Due To Police Violence Were Not Reported

Around 17,100 from police violence out of the 30,800 total deaths within the 40 years were not reported by the official government data, researchers found. The gap, which is more than half, might result from a mixture of clerical errors and more insidious motivations.

Within the period, non-Hispanic Black Americans were predicted to be 3.5 times more likely to die from police violence than non-Hispanic White Americans. In the official government data, about 60% of these deaths were not classified or not categorized as police violence.

Fablina Sharara, one of the main authors and a researcher at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, told USA Today that viral statistics reports are most often than not used to inform health policy. Incorrect data minimizes the problem of police violence and confines the reach of justice and accountability.

“Recent high-profile police killings of Black people have drawn worldwide attention to this urgent public health crisis, but the magnitude of this problem can’t be fully understood without reliable data,” Sharara said.

“Inaccurately reporting or misclassifying these deaths further obscures the larger issue of systemic racism that is embedded in many U.S. institutions, including law enforcement.”

Researchers also discovered that government data also misclassified 50% of deaths of Hispanic people, 56% of Non-Hispanic white people, and 33% of non-Hispanic people of other races.

Non-Hispanic Black People, Non-Hispanic Indigenous People The Most Victim Of Police Violence

The same with studies from the past, researchers discovered that next to non-Hispanic Black people, non-Hispanic Indigenous people were killed by police at a higher rate compared to other racial groups.

Estimated 1.8 times, Non-Hispanic Indigenous people were more likely to die from police violence than non-Hispanic white people.

Police Violence Increased By 38%

Researchers also found that between 1980 to 2010, rates of police violence increased by 38% for all races.

According to Eve Wool, a lead author and a researcher at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the increase in deaths caused by police violence is evidence of efforts to stop police violence and address systematic racism like body-worn cameras. The de-escalation and implied bias training for officers are also proven to not be effective.

Oklahoma, Wyoming, Alabama, Louisiana, and Nebraska are the top five states with the highest number of underreporting rates.

While for the states with the highest death rate due to police violence, Oklahoma, Washington, D.C., Arizona, Alaska, Nevada, and Wyoming completes the list.

According to the researchers, deaths due to police violence were higher for men compared to women, with 30,600 deaths in men and 1,420 deaths in women from 1980 to 2019.

Reasons For Police Violence Underreporting

The researchers also found out that the reasons for underreporting of deaths caused by police violence are related to several factors, which can be solved for collecting data accurately and eventually stop police violence.

One reason may be clerical issues. The coroner or medical examiner may have failed to indicate that police were involved or they had made errors while in the process of assigning certain codes.

Another reason is that some coroners and medical examiners may feel a “substantial conflict of interest” that prevents them from putting law enforcement involvement in death since many works for or are surrounded by the police department. This may make them feel political or feel occupational pressure to disguise police liability.

In a 2011 survey by the National Association of Medical Examiners, they discovered that 22% of respondents reported being pressured by an elected official to change the cause or manner of someone’s death on a certificate.

Training and clearer instructions on documenting deaths caused by police violence can help improve the reporting. Researchers also suggested that forensic pathologists should work separately from law enforcement and be awarded whistleblower protections under the law.

“Currently, the same government responsible for this violence is also responsible for reporting on it,” Sharara said. “Open-sourced data is a more reliable and comprehensive resource to help inform policies that can prevent police violence and save lives.”

Study’s Limitations and Scope

According to the researchers, the study has some limitations. It did not calculate nonfatal injuries caused by police violence, police violence in U.S. territories, or people who military police may have harmed in the U.S. or outside the country. Every state was also missing some ethnic data.

The study also relied on data from death certificates, which only permit for binary designation of sex. The study’s approach also omits the presence of non-cisgender people and disguises the extremely high rates of police violence against transgender people, specifically Black transgender people.

The study was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.