The law enforcement community has been put under the microscope recently due to the use of deadly force in several incidents across the country. For various reasons the media has seen fit to hype these incidents, often painting law enforcement as unaccountable and out of control.
But what are the real facts? Richard Johnson, Ph.D. with the University of Toledo’s Criminal Justice Program has sifted through the data trying to answer that question. He looked at the 56,259 homicides in the U.S. for the period 2009 through 2012. Homicide is defined as the intentional or negligent killing of one person by another. This would include both justifiable killings as well as murders. Some of his findings are striking.
Of the 56,259 homicides studied, 1,491 were due to police use of force. In comparison, 755 homicides were accidental, such as a child playing with a gun. Another 1,120 were justifiable self-defense homicides.
The yearly average of deaths caused by police is 372. In contrast, nearly 36,000 persons are killed in motor vehicle accidents each year and another 38,000 plus commit suicide each year.
Johnson also looked at race as a factor in homicides. Over the four year period, 19,000 of the homicides were of black males. But out of the 19,000, only 481 were from police use of force. In contrast, 648 black males were killed by private citizens acting in self-defense. Of these justifiable killings, over 73% were committed by another black person.
The data also showed that of the 17,719 black males killed in criminal homicides, in nearly 90% of the cases the murderer was another black male. Of the 372 police-caused deaths each year, 120 are black males. This compares to 4,166 black males who are murdered each year. In fact, regardless of race or gender, an American is more likely to get struck by lightning (373/year) than to be killed by police (372/year).
Johnson also estimated that each year, 14,600 police officers are injured or killed in the line-of-duty due to assaults. Comparing that to the 372 deaths each year caused by police, he concludes: “This would suggest significant restraint of the part of police officers nationwide… not an epidemic of police-initiated killings in the U.S.” Amen to that.