Row of police officers looking off camera.

U.S. Police Shootings And How Many Die Each Year

The overwhelming number of police shootings in the news has been downright staggering recently. Just this past Sunday three police officers were killed in a shooting that took place in Baton Rouge. The last shooting in Dallas happened just ten days ago where five police officers were killed. The shooters are reported to have stated their motivations were revenge against cops for the killing of young black men. The president has addressed the nation asking for peace. There seems to have been an increase in violence recently by police and against police. The numbers are shocking as well, but is it just the media bringing more attention to something to get a story? FBI data actually says different. Seth Stoughton is a law professor at the University of Southern Carolina and he also used to be a police officer. He is quoted on CNN as saying that “There’s a widespread perception in the American public, and particularly within law enforcement, that officers are more threatened, more endangered, more often assaulted, and more often killed than they have been historically. I think it’s a very strong perception. People truly believe it. But factually, looking at the numbers, it’s not accurate.” The annual number of police deaths on average for the past ten years has been nearly 50. In the past decades it has been averaged at over a 100 yearly. If this is true, it means that police deaths are actually down in recent years. Now there are also around 250,000 more police officers than there use to be. Another statistic on the decline is the number of homicides which has reduced considerably since 1980 as well.

US Officers Killed as the Result of a Crime 1970-2015

Blue is the officers killed, red is the proceeding ten year average.


Source: FBI-LEOKA/Criminal Justice Statistics/Seth Stoughton


In regards to people actually killed police the data is nearly impossible to actually record. The same FBI director told the House of Representatives last year that “We can’t have an informed discussion, because we don’t have data. People have data about who went to a movie last weekend, or how many books were sold, or how many cases of the flu walked into an emergency room. And I cannot tell you how many people were shot by police in the United States last month, last year, or anything about the demographics. And that’s a very bad place to be.” It doesn’t seem to register properly that there aren’t statistics or methodically kept records on the number of police who have killed civilians. The FBI does not release what little information it does have, so news sources have taken to recording the fatalities themselves. Kimberly Kindy from the Washington Post is quoted saying “We looked at the FBI Database, since that was the official government accounting for things. And saw that over the past decade, the average number of shootings that they counted was about 400. By the end of last year, we had almost 1,000 fatal shootings that we had captured.” Also the statistics show that black people are being shot over twice as much as whites. 1,000 fatal shootings seems like a lot in itself, but we don’t actually know how this stacks up against previous years. This year however is one track to have just as many if not more fatal shootings by police. The shocking thing about this statistic is it does not count deaths caused by police for other reasons other than gunshot wounds. Many civilians also get killed by tasers, police vehicles, and physical interactions with the cops.

Number of Police Officers Since 1975-2013

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Source: FBI-LEOKA/Criminal Justice Statistics/Seth Stoughton

Just after our nation’s Independence Day Alton Sterling was shot, which caused this recent surge of media coverage in regards to police shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement. There are many troubling statistics in regards to this situation. African Americans do not make up a majority of the population, they only make up 13%, yet 50% of murderers in the US are African Americans. This situation has many tendrils of complexity that run through every aspect of our society. Regardless as to whether or not that the situation was caused by the police, the people, or the media, it has jeopardized the safety of the American people.

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