American Police Kill a Lot of People

Given the makeup of the board, I imagine that the general reaction to the title of the thread will be, “No shit. The Pope is also Catholic.”

But, now that we’re well past the BLM era and into the Trump era and I’m not aware of any recent, big police killings, it seemed a reasonable time to revisit the topic while we’re not all in a partisan crisis and unwilling to be open to other possibilities.

As said, I think that the popular wisdom on the site is that the American Police Kill a Lot of People, as noted in the title. But, at one point the site also popularly believed that tasers kill people* and, since we all rely on the news, it is the common case that a lot of information in news is strongly misleading** on partisan issues.

So let us try making the assumption (which we will accept as a hypothetical, not a real world effect) that a person who wants to kill another person, will find a way to do so. No guns, they’ll use a bomb, knife, or vehicle to cause those same deaths. In Britain, where the police do not have guns, they might simply run the perp over, tie him up by the neck in jail, or whatever else. It is readily conceivable that British police might kill (but, obviously, not shoot) the people they deal with at an equal rate as the Americans, simply using other means to accomplish their aim. Whether you buy that hypothetical or not, I leave to you and other threads, but as said we will assume it to be true for the time being.

But, alas, the hypothetical does not prove out in this instance. American police kill at a much greater rate.

The IPCC (the Independent Police Complaints Commission of England and Wales) provides us with this data:

In the 2014/15 year, a total of 141 people died while dealing with or under the control of the police, in England and Wales. The population of these two regions in 2015 is estimated to have been 57,849,756.

For the US, I am using the numbers from this article:

In the US, in 2015, the Washington Post was able to identify 990 people killed, by the police, by shooting. That seems sufficiently specific and identifiable that, unless we are to assume sheer lying, I have to accept that this is a bare minimum for the total number of police-caused deaths in the USA. As such, the 1,357 killed, through all means, that was recorded by “Fatal Encounters” does not strike me as implausible. If anything, I could see it excluding something like suicides in custody, since that would probably not be considered a police killing.

But, for the sake of argument and the strong belief that the British police will use faked suicides or any other means to get around their lack of a gun, we will compare the full British tally to the (probably) suicide lacking Fatal Encounters number.

If we were to scale up the 141 British killings to the population size of the US (~320m), we would expect about 780 police-related deaths in the US. Instead, we see almost double that with our expected outcome of ~1,357.

We must also accept that at least some percentage of suicides are actual suicides. I would personally guess it to be the strong majority. Similarly, I would expect the strong majority of vehicular accidents to be completely benign and I would not be surprised if this number was also excluded from the Fatal Encounters metric.

While we do not know exactly what was included in the American numbers, and we do not know how much of each category to include in our tally of the British numbers, the fact that we can’t even hit the clear police shootings in the US, even when we throw everything into it, seems strongly indicative that American police kill a lot of people, pound for pound. And, personally, I would guess that the correct ratio is probably something like 4X the kill rate.

This could be due to guns, it could be due to income disparity and race metrics of the countries being compared. If anyone can fish up similar or better statistics for a variety of nations, and whether the police of those nations are armed with guns, I am happy to run the numbers. For the moment, I’m strongly willing to believe that the sheer ease of murder that a gun enables and its ease of access to an officer (who would have it right on his hip) is quite likely to be a strong cause of this effect.

Anyways, them’s the numbers for the moment. I don’t really have anything to debate as regards it, but it seems like the sort of material that seems liable to cause a debate. I’m largely sharing because I’d like to be able to point out my non-partisan cred in the future and link back to this OP.

  • Tasers are implicated in the deaths of people at the same rate, per incident, as people who died when forced to lie on their chest. That is to say, it would seem that they can kill you only if you’re in amazingly poor health that almost anything could kill you at that moment in time. (Though, granted, if you’re in that poor of health, the need to tase you seems a bit questionable.)
    ** As best I can tell, the media doesn’t lie so much as they are selective in their hearing, and/or will faithfully report the lies that have been told to them by people who are plausible sources on that topic (political aides, scientists, etc.) It takes some close reading and smell tests to decide what seems trustworthy, but I think it’s safe to assume that the media generally reports what they have been told accurately.

The other day while I was caught in a Youtube vortex I searched “Baltimore police”…was that a mistake!!

I would posit that the possession of guns by police would be a contributing factor to their greater use. Some statistically significant percentage of police killing suspects could be attributed to the police possessing a firearm. But I would not suggest it is a great percentage.

On the other hand, I have heard it suggested that in the US the police encounter perpetrators in the possession of guns at a far greater occurrence than police in other countries. Which would seem to account more significantly for a higher percentage of police in the US using lethal force. More bad guys with guns = more bad guys shot by police.

So, diving into the numbers further, are the police in the US using lethal force when confronted with a perpetrator using a firearm at a greater frequency than police in other countries when confronted with a perpetrator using a firearm? IMHO that would be a more accurate comparison.

Nay to the last. The level of inaccuracy on the reporting on scientific discoveries or research ranges from the scary to the ridiculous. It’s hard to report accurately what one does not comprehend, and most reporters don’t know the difference between an anion and a hemorroid.

No…we wouldn’t. Because you haven’t factored in the number of American civilian on civilian deaths and compared and contrast that to the British. You can’t just scale up the British population in isolation and say, well, that’s where American numbers should be. American does not equal the UK…our citizens are different, our culture is different, and, obviously, the outcomes are different. A cursory look (which is probably more a ballpark…sorry, just no time to really search), shows between 500-600 murders in the UK in 2015 verse over 15,000 in the US for that same year.

So, the conclusion, at least wrt what you seem to be asking, is that, yes, American police kill a lot of people compared to the UK (and most other 1st or 2nd world nations)…but, then, American civilians kill a lot more American civilians (and American police) than those countries too. Q.E.D. our police kill more people because our people are more violent and are more likely to be armed.

Now, why that is, or what we can do about it…those all seem to be up for serious debate.

Very good writing.
As to countries with guns, a famous statistic is that in the Year of our Lord 2011, German police released 85 bullets in all. Whole country, whole year.
And from 1998 to 2014 there were ‘109 deaths from service weapons’. This is a country of 80 million people with 25 million guns.
I put it entirely down to trigger discipline.



Reason ( see comments )

Also, as to falling down the stairs, I am not aware of any deliberate deaths accused to British police apart from notorious serial killers ( which is as wrong as killing an innocent of course ). Which is mainly alleged for the lulz. Think of the paperwork !
This does not mean that police in the modern era have not killed people through brutality ( chokeholds etc. ) or carelessness. Just that it is not as easy to do deliberately as fondly imagined. And sadly, when dealing with a sudden loony or panicked druggie on high, it is easier to be wise after the event.

NB: of the 85 German bullets in 2011, 6 actually killed someone.

In an older thread, I make the case (in two posts, below) that US cops kill about 14,000 times (yes, that’s not a typo – fourteen thousand times) as many people, per capita, as UK police:

My math compares UK police shootings since the early 20th century to US police killings in a single month, and then extrapolates. Using different sources of data for comparison, the ratio could vary.

I was thinking of doing this as a follow-up. If I can find the suicide rate for the US, I will be able to compare the two countries. If the hypothesis has any merit in this instance (if so, we would expect the UK value to be higher). Granted, the numbers are so small that there would need to be a significant difference to prove anything.

While I haven’t looked closely, this methodology sounds a bit like comparing the amount of bread eaten by humans and penguins and using the difference as evidence that humans eat more food of all kinds, scaling for weight, than penguins do, by an infinite amount.

Indeed, the British police of the early 20th century were armed with a truncheon:

You might as well have compared machine gun deaths between the Mongol Invasions under Genghis Khan and the Second World War.

I misspoke earlier – I was comparing killings to killings, not shootings to killings. I’m sure the weaponry is a factor, but to me that might be a sign that US cops are more armed then they need to be. My point is to show that the discrepancy is utterly colossal, multiple orders of magnitude larger, per capita, than either the differences in crime rates or the differences in prevalence of firearms.

The other way around Americans shoot alot of police officers compared to the UK. For instance there were 64 police officers shot to death in 2016. In the UK there were about 71 police officers shot to death in the last 120 years.
Compared to the UK Americans shoot alot of civilians as well. There is one gun homicide per million people in the UK, in the US there is one gun homicide for every 40,000 people.

As Trump would say: No one shoots people better than Americans do!

We are the bezt! Sad for UK! Need covfefe

Back of the envelope math (using your numbers):

The disparity for police officers shot dead is, very roughly, 25 to 1 per capita. A little more than a single order of magnitude.

The disparity for gun homicides is, roughly, also (coincidentally? or not?) 25 to 1 per capita. A little more than a single order of magnitude.

The disparity for people killed by cops is roughly 14,000 to 1. That’s more than 4 orders of magnitude.

Notice also the dour Norwegians: 2002 - 2015 police shot 2 people.

And after 2006 in that period, none.

The Mic

Only if we look at it using your data over the last century. If we look at it year by year, however, it doesn’t work out to 14k to 1 (it couldn’t, since US cops only kill something like 900-1000 civilians a year). Only you seem to be convinced, as far as I can tell, that your comparison really shows anything meaningful. We went through this in the other thread. I get that you were unconvinced by my argument in there, but I was equally unconvinced by yours as well. I think the numbers aren’t all that puzzling…Americans kill each other in much larger numbers than UK citizens (or most other countries citizens). Americans are more heavily armed and more likely to be armed. American cops are, consequently more heavily armed that police in the UK. The likelihood of an armed confrontation is, therefore, more likely in the US than in the UK, which means, just based on probability alone, more people are going to be shot in such a confrontation in the US than in the UK. Pretty much QED.

Doesn’t say how many died though, just talking about guns. But, again, how many Norwegians kill other Norwegians in that same period of time? How many kill police? How many police are even armed? How many police are there? You’d need to look at all of those things to do a meaningful comparison. I’m guessing that very few Norwegians kill other Norwegians in that same period of time. That fewer killed police officers. That there are few Norwegian police officers, and that perhaps like in the UK very few are armed. Maybe I’m wrong about that…if so, I’d like to see the numbers.

Sure, this is a good argument for why the numbers will be a lot higher in the US, but I don’t think it answers the question of why the disparity is so colossally huge as it is. Is there some level of disparity at which you’d consider that your explanation isn’t enough to wholly explain it?

Here’s a possibile part of the answer unrelated to crime rates and availability of weapons – I think there’s a good possibility that UK law enforcement policy values avoiding escalation of conflict, and avoiding deadly force, at a greater level than US law enforcement. Do you think this is out of the realm of possibility, or is this likely a part of the story?