perspectives on police killings

Are the police more likely to be killed by the general population, or is the general population more likely to be killed by the police? This is a question I asked myself this weekend as I thought more about the tragedy in Dallas. There are now several databases available today tracking police killings of Americans, but very little attention is paid to how often Americans kill their police. In order for us to understand the phenomenon of why police kill some Americans more than others, we need to have a balanced take on all of the information available to us. Here is what I found:

Killed by gunfire in 2015 (per million):

General Population —> Police – 43 (based on approximately 900,000 sworn officers nationwide)
Police —> Black – 6
Police —> Hispanic – 3.04
Police —> White – 2.47
Police —> Other – 1.68

Based on the above information, police are far more likely to be killed by the GP than the other way around. I’m only focusing on gunfire to be consistent, since the Washington Post database also only focuses on citizens killed by police gunfire. But even if you expand that to include other forms of death, the numbers don’t change much one way or the other.

The purpose of my post is not to prove that there are not issues facing specific communities, in particular African Americans, as it pertains to their relationship with the police. My only point is that the issues are far more complex than racism/bias. There is no doubt in my mind that racism/bias play a role, but playing a role and being the dominant explanatory variable are two different things.

Another area that is salient is violence. But few people are willing to discuss the relationship between violence in a population and police killings because it’s highly charged. Some think that to admit that violence plays a role is to admit there is no problem, but that isn’t so. If violence plays a role for why some groups are more likely to be killed by police than others, it doesn’t in the least bit justify police brutality. If anything, it just proves how sticky the problem is, since many innocent people are being exposed to higher risk due to the minority in a community who commit the violence, causing police to be more trigger happy towards everyone. That is a tragedy to be acknowledged, not ignored. But if we continue to focus all of our efforts on racism/bias reducing efforts, when racism/bias are only a component of a much larger problem, then it’s unlikely that we will achieve the desired outcomes we’re after, which is the reduction of police killings, especially in African American communities.

Data: – General population statistics (2015) – Officers fatalities – Officer population statistics…/nati…/police-shootings/ – Police killings database