A new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Lancet found that more than half of all police-related deaths occurred in the United States in the past 40 years went unreported. During the years 1980 through 2018, health care researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at University of Washington School of Medicine determined that more than 55% police killings were miscategorized or unreported.
Additionally, the study found that African Americans have a 3.5 times higher chance of dying due to police violence than any other racial or ethnic group.
This pressing public health issue has recently been brought to international attention by high-profile police killings of Black people, but the scale of the problem cannot be adequately assessed without reliable data, according to co-lead author of the study, Fablina Sharara.
Data collected from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), a government database tracking the American population, were compared to non-government, open-source database sources, such as news reports and public record requests, whose scope provides a more complete picture of police brutality.
Data sourced from open sources is a more reliable source of information that can help formulate policies that reduce police violence and save lives, Sharara said.
A recent report concludes that 60 percent of police cases where Black Americans are killed were misclassified by the NVSS database. In addition, a majority of police fatal encounters with Hispanic people were not reported; similarly, 56 percent of non-Hispanic white fatalities and 33 percent of other deaths were not recorded.
According to Sharara, inaccurate reporting and classification of the deaths are vital because “the misclassification or inaccurate reporting further obscures the larger issue of systemic racism persistent throughout many U.S. institutions, including law enforcement.”
Furthermore, the study identified possible conflict of interest areas where inaccurate reporting might occur. The coroner’s office is often part of the police department, which could discourage them from stating that a death was the result of police misconduct.
Despite the violence, the same government must be held accountable for reporting it, Sharara added.
Over the course of the study, a total of 30,600 men and 1,420 women were killed by police in the U.S. between 1980 and 2019.
The community should do more. There has been little progress in avoiding police violence and addressing systemic racism in the United States, according to co-lead author Eve Wool of the study. Several initiatives to reduce violence among police and address systemic racism, for example, are ineffective.