3 December 2014

Police killed in the U.S. by the numbers

Some interesting numbers on police killed in the line of duty appeared on the Hipcrime website, apparently taken wholly or partly from The Economist or perhaps from this FBI report.

Number of U.S. law enforcement officers killed as a result of criminal acts:

2004: 57
2009: 48
2012: 49
2013: 27

There are 885 thousand law enforcement officers in America, as of 2008 (120 thousand Federal, 765 thousand State/local). That’s a death rate from criminals of 3 per hundred thousand per year. While any death of a policeman in the line of duty is tragic, we need to put this in perspective. For example, 97 firemen died in 2013 in the U.S. Of course this is only part of the story. As would be expected, there was a high number of assaults of police, some of which caused injury.

Number of civilians shot and killed by police:

USA: 409 (in 2012, per FBI, plus one death by “other weapon”)
Japan + Britain + Germany = 8

The U.S. population is 17% larger, but the U.S.police killed 51 times more civilians.

British police fired their guns 3 times in 2012.

(For other data on police killings, check out this Sept. 3, 2014, newspaper article and this August 15th article in the Economist.).

As is always the case when reading numbers like this, one can't help but wonder what it is that makes the U.S. so prone to violence. My guess is that it's strongly linked to the TV shows people watch. In Korea, for example, the TV is filled with sappy (albeit well-written) romances. In Japan, amidst the endless silly quiz-shows full of hyper-feminine giggling women, there are plenty of feel-good shows (the Japanese equivalents of The Waltons). In these countries, violence tends to be portrayed as shocking and highly abnormal. In the U.S. media, Americans get this message that life is violent and that they must therefore also be hype-vigilant and ready to respond violently in any situation.


BadTux said...

Note that it's unknown how many people were shot by police officers. A small number of police departments (mostly those under court order) report those incidents to the FBI. Most don't. It is likely that the number shot by police is 10 times higher than the number reported to the FBI, given that departments voluntarily or under court order reporting those numbers to the FBI are less than 10% of police departments in the US.

But as Deadspin points out, the system isn't broken, that's how it's designed. Because abusing non-whites is as American as apple pie, and more American than Chevrolet (many of which are built in Mexico or Canada these days).

Karlo said...

I guess the first thing Obama could do is tell us what the real number is. It would be interesting to know and to see how we compare with the rest of the world.

Tom Harper said...

Also by design is the fact that most people think police work is extremely dangerous. They don't give any fake statistics, but we've all heard the heart-rending talking points about "the police officer wondering if today will be the day he doesn't come home," etc. I don't mean to downplay the dangers of law enforcement, but there are many blue collar occupations that have a much higher mortality rate than police officer.

Karlo said...

I'm sure they have a tough job simply dealing with people's problems constantly. At the end of the day, though, one has to wonder why the there's such a gap between the U.S. and other countries in these areas. There's something to be said for creating a culture where violence is exceptional and a bit obscene instead of considering it to be the unavoidable norm.