Yesterday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released preliminary statistics for the number of law enforcement officers who were killed in 2014. According to the FBI, those statistics show “that 51 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the line of duty” last year. That number is reportedly “an increase of almost 89 percent when compared to the 27 officers killed in 2013.”
Andy Campbell (Huffington Post) said that despite last year’s increase in deaths of police officers while in the line of duty, the 2014 “figure is well below the 64 officers who were killed on average each year between 1980 and 2014.” He said that “2013 actually saw the lowest number of officers killed in action in the last 35 years.”
(Note: From 1980–2014, an average of 64 law enforcement officers have been feloniously killed per year. The 2013 total, 27, was the lowest during this 35-year period.) By region, 17 officers died as a result of criminal acts that occurred in the South, 14 officers in the West, eight officers in the Midwest, eight in the Northeast, and four in Puerto Rico.
By circumstance, 11 officers died from injuries inflicted as a result of answering disturbance calls (one of which was a domestic disturbance). Ten officers were conducting traffic pursuits or stops, eight were killed as a result of ambushes (six due to entrapment/premeditated situations and two during unprovoked attacks), and six officers were investigating suspicious persons or circumstances. Five officers sustained fatal injuries while they were performing investigative activities, four while they were engaged in tactical situations, three officers were handling persons with mental illness, and one officer was slain during a drug-related matter. Three officers were killed while attempting other arrests.
Offenders used firearms in 46 of the 51 felonious deaths. These included 32 incidents with handguns, 11 incidents with rifles, and three incidents with shotguns. Four victim officers were killed with vehicles used as weapons, and one was killed with the offender’s personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.).
The FBI noted that thirty-five of the slain officers were wearing body armor at the time of their deaths.
Campbell said that the FBI hasn’t been able “to accurately compile a list of citizens killed by officers in any given year.” He said that there were a number of reasons for that.
Officer-involved shootings and uses of force aren’t statistics that can be accurately gathered nationally, and even if they could be, internal investigations are handled and reported differently — if at all — in almost every jurisdiction.
The FBI’s most recent report on “justifiable homicides” by police officers shows that 461 felons were killed by a cop in the line of duty in 2013. According to The New York Times, however, the figures are incomplete and widely contested.
Michael Wines and Sarah Cohen (New York Times):
Federal experts have long acknowledged that that estimate is too low, and a handful of more recent, unofficial reports — online databases compiled and fact-checked by volunteers — place the toll much higher, at about 1,100 deaths a year, or three a day. Yet they do not suggest that the pace of police killings or the racial composition of victims as a group has changed significantly in the last two years or so.
Wines and Cohen said that “determining the prevalence of such killings is no easy matter.” According to Wines and Cohen, the use of force by the police — against both minorities and whites— has been “so poorly monitored that there is no precise accounting of how many citizens are killed, much less their ethnicity or other crucial details.” They added, “What official data exists suggests that the number of killings by police officers has crept upward only slowly, if at all, in recent years. Since 2009, one regular if incomplete measure, the F.B.I.’s account of justifiable homicides by police officers, ranged from 397 to 426 deaths annually before jumping to 461 in 2013, the latest reporting year.”
Wines and Cohen said that some criminologists “believe police homicides are near their nadir.” They noted that 91 people were fatally shot by police in 1971 in New York City— but “a record-low eight in 2013, the last year for which figures are available.” And in Los Angeles, officers reportedly “used ‘categorical’ force — gunfire, chokings and other violence that could lead to death — in 84 of nearly 149,000 arrests in 2012.” That was a drop of 17 percent in seven years. The two authors of the Times article concluded that the data suggested “that any perception that higher numbers of unarmed African-Americans are being killed by the police in recent months is driven by citizens’ postings of unsettling cellphone videos and pictures, like that of police officers dragging Freddie Gray, his legs apparently not working, into a van.”
Wines and Cohen added that “lethal force by the police is a steady problem that is causing police departments across the country to debate whether they need to change procedures and training.”
Killings Of Police Officers Went Up In 2014, But Have Fallen Since The 1980s (Huffington Post)
FBI Releases 2014 Preliminary Statistics for Law Enforcement Officers Killed in the Line of Duty (FBI)
Police Killings Rise Slightly, Though Increased Focus May Suggest Otherwise (New York Times)
“The two authors of the Times article concluded that the data suggested “that any perception that higher numbers of unarmed African-Americans are being killed by the police in recent months is driven by citizens’ postings of unsettling cellphone videos and pictures, like that of police officers dragging Freddie Gray, his legs apparently not working, into a van.”
So are we to conclude that racial unrest among people of color is merely the result of “bad” publicity?
Mike, I sure don’t go with that conclusion. The unrest is due to years of harassment and abuse and “unreported” excessive force. “Unreported” as in the cops don’t write it up even when reported by citizens.
For those with an interest the web site ‘killed by police dot net’ attempts to compile a list of those killed by police from mainstream and social media. That site has data back through 2013.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics also has a page ‘Arrest-Related Deaths’ with tables as recent as 2009. However this site seems more concerned with the problems and technical details of collecting and documenting deaths of all types related to arrest.
My statement was made with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek.
I agree that many police departments fudge their reported shooting numbers.
Poisonous cops, total immunity: Why an epidemic of police abuse is actually going unpunished
Departments across America get hit with a shocking number of lawsuits—but most are paid off and swept under the rug
“There’s just no effort to track nationally the allegations of police misconduct that these suits and settlements reveal,”says Joanna Schwartz, a professor of law at UCLA and one of the nation’s leading experts on police misconduct civil litigation. “These costs from lawsuits translate to money lost for other priorities in a time of austerity for local governments.”
No matter how big the settlement might be, Schwartz notes that police officers enjoy a qualified immunity that shields them from personal liability for whatever actions they take while on the job. Schwartz asked 70 of the nation’s largest police departments to submit the total amount they paid out to settle police misconduct cases from 2006 to 2011. Forty-four of the 70 agencies responded. All told, they paid out $730 million to settle 9,225 civil rights suits. Yet in just one half of one percent of those settlements were officers required to pay anything.
Schwartz says few local governments mine the lawsuits for critical data on patterns of police behavior that generate the lawsuits in the first place. Schwartz points to the NYPD’s CompStat program as an applicable model that tracks major crimes by precinct on a weekly basis and is credited with helping the New York City significantly reduce crime. “What gets measured gets managed. Why not use the same strategy when it comes to police misconduct revealed through lawsuits?”
In New York City alone, during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s three term tenure, NYPD payouts were in excess of $1 billion dollars. In FY 2013 the City of New York paid out more than $138 million. In FY 2014, that number spiked to nearly $217 million, just to settle claims from allegations of false arrest, excessive force and civil rights violations. Just imagine what the national total of these settlements must be.
Schwartz’s idea of a CompStat approach to tracking police misconduct suits already is being implemented in New York City. Getting a handle on the huge dollar amount in annual NYPD payouts, as well as zeroing in on the police behavior that prompted them, has become a major focus of the city’s comptroller, Scott Stringer. Stringer has inaugurated ClaimStat, modeled on the NYPD’s crime tracking precinct based CompStat, that tracks the law suit settlements made on behalf of all of the City’s agencies including the NYPD.
“For far too long, big cities and small towns across the country have accepted rising claims and settlements—and the injuries and injustice that precipitate them—as the cost of doing business,” says Stringer. “ClaimStat is designed to change that by using data to help identify hot spots before they become problems, just as the NYPD did with CompStat two decades ago. As a result, my office is working closely with Commissioner Bratton’s Risk Assessment Unit to share claims data in real time and obtain evidence that helps us to separate legitimate claims from frivolous suits.”
Stringer’s ClaimStat webpage cites Portland, Oregon’s, police department as an example of an agency that used their settlement data to effect meaningful and timely reforms. He explained: “[W]hen the police auditor observed a pattern of claims that suggesting that officers did to understand the basis to enter a home without a warrant, the City Attorney’s office made a training video on the issue, and the problem practically disappeared.”