The following is the third in a series.
Historical data on trends in police killings is often incomplete and hard to find.
Historically, some police jurisdictions did not report this data. The FBI has not collected information in this area until recently.
The FBI's "Use of Force Data Collection" program only began in January, 2019.
However, there are several sources that collect and analyze this data. These reports are not always consistent, but they provide insights.
Police Killings of Blacks Were Three Times Higher 40 Years Ago
A study in 2002 on the trends in mortality due to legal intervention (Andrew Sikora and Michael Mulvihill) tracked police killings from 1979 to 1997. In 1979, nearly 3 of every 100,000 Black males between the age of 20 to 34 were killed in police encounters — about eight times more than the rate for white males.
Prior to 1985, there were few legal decisions limiting police use of force. Police were safe to shoot someone simply for fleeing the scene of a felony.
Few police departments or agencies had a written use of force policy.
But in the 1980s there was legal reform and stricter police policies.
As a result, between 1979 and 1988, police killings among 20- to 34-year-old Black males dropped 60%, to about 1.2 per 100,000.
An article by The Society Pages (Todd Beer) provides important data on the trend in police killings of unarmed men from 2015 to 2019.
According to data from The Washington Post, the number of unarmed victims of lethal force by police dropped continuously — from 94 incidents in 2015 to 41 in 2019. That was a 44% decline.
Additionally, the percent of Black unarmed victims declined from 40% of total victims to 22%. White unarmed victims were 34% of the total in 2015, but actually increased to 46% in 2019.
Based on this data, there were an estimated 38 unarmed Blacks killed by police in 2015, but down to 9 in 2019. That is a stunning 76% reduction. Police killing of unarmed whites also declined 41% during the same time period. In 2019 there were 19 unarmed white people killed in 2019 — more than double the number for Blacks.
The study also showed that in 2015 about 15% of lethal force incidents with Blacks were against unarmed persons. This was significantly higher than the 11% rate among whites. However, by 2019, only about 4% of these lethal force incidents against both Blacks and whites were unarmed encounters. We've seen nearly a 75% decline in the rate of unarmed Blacks being killed by police since just 2015!
Putting Police Killings in Perspective
The Dolan Consulting Group did an extensive study in 2016, "Dispelling the Myths Surrounding Police Use of Lethal Force."
According to the study, there were 990 police shooting deaths in 2013. That represents 3 in every 1 million people. That is hardly an epidemic, particularly since 85% or more of these incidents were against armed criminals.
Fewer than 0.5 out of every 1 million people were killed by police in an unarmed incident.
In 2015 The Washington Post estimated that there were 248 fatal shootings of Blacks by police. Thirty-eight were unarmed.
But, 6,789 Blacks were killed in homicides, 90% of them by other Blacks.
In fact, if we examine the chances of Blacks dying prematurely, police killings don't even register.
In 2015, approximately 87,000 Black males died from non-illness related causes. Here is an estimate of the causes of premature deaths among blacks in 2015:
- 36% - Accidental Poisonings
- 32% - Suicides
- 12% - Accidental Falls
- 9% - Drowning
- 7% - Homicides by Blacks
- 4% - Traffic Accidents
- 1% - Homicides by whites/Hispanics
- 0.2% - Police Shootings – Armed Criminals
- 0.04% - Police Shootings – Unarmed Victims
Black Lives Matter, but if this organization was concerned about black lives, it would be focused on the reasons and cures for Black-on-Black homicides and drug abuse. Police are not the problem.
Eighty-six police officers were killed in the line of duty in 2015, more than half of them by Black men. In 2015 there were 38 unarmed black people killed by police.
More police officers are murdered by Black men than fatal police shootings of unarmed Blacks.
There were also over 48,000 assaults on police reported in 2015. This increased 22% by 2018. There is about a 13% incident rate of non-administrative police employees being assaulted each year.
Police are under assault and it has especially skyrocketed in the last weeks.
The use of lethal force against young Black males has gone down dramatically.
From 1979 to 1988 there was a 60% decrease. This was largely due to judicial decisions and the creation of police guidelines on use of force.
The improvement has continued in recent history. Between 2015 and 2019 the number of incidents where unarmed Black males were killed by police declined 76% — to nine people in 2019.
This is far less than an epidemic that justifies the recent violence, looting, destruction of property, and murders.
Unjustified police shootings in the Black community are miniscule, especially compared to the number of Black-on-Black homicides, drug overdose, suicides, and other accidental deaths.
Policing has improved dramatically, but police are under assault.
More police officers are murdered by Blacks than the number of unarmed Blacks killed by police. As of July 24, forty-four police officers have died in gunfire and vehicle assault or pursuit. Including deaths related to COVID exposure and other reasons, 135 law enforcement officers have died so far this year — a 53% increase.
We've made much progress with effective police policies to reduce mortalities. Ironically, we ought to praise the very significant improvement. We ought to support our police who are in the line of fire and being killed and assaulted with greater frequency. The dialogue for continued improvement in policing should be peaceful and the violence against police must stop.
Next: Have Police Become More Effective to Reduce Crime?
Roger Andersen holds an undergraduate degree in Economics from Wheaton College and an MBA from Oregon State University. He studied literature and history at Oxford University and international economics at the University of Leiden. Mr. Andersen began his career with PepsiCo, serving in various business planning, strategic planning, and financial management roles. He was CFO for Tonka/Kenner/Parker, CFO for Rollerblade, SVP for Pepsi-Cola General Bottlers, CEO of Young America Corporation, and CEO of The Bob Pike Group. He is the author of The Executive Calling: Corporate Success Without Selling Your Soul. Roger and his wife have two daughters. Read Roger Andersen's Reports — More Here.
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