Police Brutality Statistics: What the Data Says About Police Violence in America
The killings of Michael Brown, George Floyd, and Breonna Taylor, among many other unarmed Black men and women, have placed police violence at the center of the national conversation. This heightened awareness of wrongful police killings of civilians also exposed a disturbing deficit in the federal government’s collection of policing data.
Media groups like The Guardian, The Washington Post, and others rushed to fill this data void. By creating independent databases from local news reports and online sources, the researchers found that the federal government counted less than half of all officer-involved shooting deaths. Then-FBI director James Comey admitted that the Bureau’s shortcomings were “ridiculous” and “embarrassing.”
This article will reveal the most vital police brutality statistics on deaths from police violence by examining the most authoritative, independent data sources. It will include statistics describing the disparate impacts of police violence on communities of color. We’ll conclude with recommendations to help stop killings by police, and throughout the piece, try to answer these and other frequently asked questions about police violence.
Note: This article primarily focuses on police-related killings rather than non-fatal police violence. That exclusion doesn’t minimize the problem of excessive police force causing severe injuries and personal trauma. It only reflects the scandalous lack of reliable data provided by local, state, and federal police agencies.
Regional Overview: Police Violence in the United States & Abroad
Despite the increased data visibility into the problem in recent years, police killings of civilians continue to occur at an astonishing rate. We’ll examine which groups of people are most likely to be killed by the police in the following section. But we’ll begin with a high-level view of the problem at the national, state, and international levels.
According to The Washington Post’s tracking database, at least 1,054 people were shot and killed by the police in 2021. And according to Mapping Police Violence, a leading police violence research project, police killed a minimum of 1,136 people that same year. That includes 1,095 people shot by police or another cause of death — such as tasers, physical restraints, or police vehicles.
The Mapping Police Violence analysis, which pulls data from the longstanding Fatal Encounters database, also noted a disturbing observation. In 2021, there were only 15 days when police did not kill someone in the US.
Have the rates of police killings increased over the years?
While smartphones and social media have made the problem of police violence more visible, about 1,000 people in the U.S. population are killed by police every year. According to Mapping Police Violence and The Washington Post, those figures have been remarkably consistent since they started tracking data in 2013 and 2016, respectively.
In other words, police killings are not increasing. But they’re not decreasing either, which reflects the continuing crisis of policing in America.
Which US states have the highest rates of fatal police violence?
The prestigious medical journal The Lancet analyzed mortality rates of people killed by race and state in the United States from 1990 to 2019. Likely the most comprehensive analysis on the topic, they compared data from the USA National Vital Statistics System (NVSS) to three previously mentioned police violence databases — Mapping Police Violence, Fatal Encounters, and The Guardian’s “The Counted” database.
The states with the highest mortality rates of people killed by police during the 2010s time period are
0.87 deaths per 100,000
0.82 deaths per 100,000
0.79 deaths per 100,000
Which US states have the lowest rates of fatal police violence?
According to the Lancet data mentioned above, the states with the lowest mortality rates of people killed by the police during the 2010s time period are
Which US police departments have the highest rates of fatal police violence?
According to Mapping Police Violence, from 2013 through 2021, the U.S. police departments with the highest rates of people killed by police were
- St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department: 15.3 deaths per 1 million
- Oklahoma City Police Department: 9.9 deaths per 1 million
- Bakersfield Police Department: 9.8 deaths per 1 million
The Chicago Police Department deserves special mention. The overall annual rate of people killed by police in Chicago is below average at 3.3 deaths per million. Taking a closer look at the numbers, CPD kills Black people at an annual rate of 8.9 per million and white people at 0.4 per million.
The Chicago Police Department, on average, kills about 23.9 more Black people than white people every year. To put these sky-high fatality rates into perspective by comparing them against sizable municipal police departments with significantly lower rates of police killings.
Which US police departments have the lowest rates of fatal police violence?
- New York City Police Department: 1.2 deaths per 1 million
- Raleigh Police Department: 1.5 deaths per 1 million
- Boston Police Department: 2.5 deaths per 1 million
The key takeaway is that rates of fatal shootings by police vary considerably across police departments, with some being more than ten times as likely to kill civilians as others.
So how does America’s police violence compare to that of other countries?
American police kill civilians at extraordinarily higher rates than police in other high-income democracies. According to the Prison Policy Initiative, a criminal justice think tank, in 2019, U.S. police killed 3.35 per 1 million people. Canadian police, the next highest on the list, killed 0.98 for every 1 million. And police in England and Wales rarely kill civilians, at a rate of .05 per 1 million.
In other words, police in the U.S. kill people at a rate at least three times higher than Canadian police do and at least 60 times the rate of police in England and Wales. And according to an analysis by The Guardian, U.S. police killed more people in the first 24 days of 2015 than cops in England and Wales did throughout the previous 24 years.
Who are the most common victims of police violence?
Now that we’ve looked at police brutality from a regional perspective, we’ll analyze its victims. Revisiting The Washington Post’s database, which has tracked more than 7,000 fatal police shootings since 2015, the data shows that police brutality is a problem that affects people across demographic groups.
Although about half of the estimated 1,000 people shot and killed by police every year in the United States are white — the proportional weight of police violence hits communities of color the hardest.
So what’s the risk of being killed by police violence by race?
The Washington Post’s database breaks down the stark racial disparities for people in the United States killed by police shootings since Jan. 1, 2015.
- Police killed white people at a rate of 15 per 1 million
- Police killed Hispanic people at a rate of 28 per 1 million
- Police killed Black people at a rate of 38 per 1 million
In other words, Hispanic Americans were nearly two times as likely to be killed by the police than white Americans, and Black Americans were more than 2.5 times as likely to be killed by the police than white people.
And according to the 2021 Police Violence report, a product of the Mapping Police Violence team, Black Americans were not only more likely to be killed by police than other races. They were also more likely to be unarmed and less likely to be threatening someone when killed.
Which US police department has the highest rate of deadly force against Black Americans?
According to Mapping Police Violence, from 2013 through 2021, the Oklahoma Police Department killed 57 people, including 26 Black people. That equates to an average annual rate of killings of Black people by police of 31.5 per 1 million. Moreover, Oklahoma PD officers killed Black people at 4.9 times the rate of white people.
What’s the risk of being killed by police violence by age and gender?
According to The Washington Post, among the 7,281 people shot and killed by the police, 6,951 — or over 95% — are male. And more than half of the victims are between 20 and 40 years old.
So overall, the profile of people killed by the police tends to be overwhelmingly male, mostly young, and disproportionately Latino and Black men.
Mental health risks
According to the 2021 Police Violence Report, police killed 104 people after receiving reports of someone behaving erratically or having a mental health crisis.
What happens to police after they kill someone?
Philip Stinson, a criminal justice expert at Bowling Green State University, maintains the most comprehensive database of officers charged with crimes. His national database contains information on 13,214 arrest cases from 2005 to 2016 involving 10,901 individual law enforcement officers.
In short, not very. According to Professor Philip Stinson, U.S. prosecutors in 2021 charged only 21 police officers with either murder or manslaughter resulting from deadly use of force. While 21 might not seem like many, it was a record-high number of officers charged.
For comparison, prosecutors in 2020 charged 16 police officers with murder or manslaughter from an on-duty deadly force incident. Twelve were charged in 2019, ten in 2018, and seven in 2017.
Based on Professor Stinson’s data on police crimes — only a tiny minority, less than 2% of officers who killed civilians in the line of duty, were charged with a crime. The vast majority of officers who killed people while on duty, 98.2%, were not charged with a crime.
The April 2021 murder and manslaughter conviction of Derick Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, was an extraordinary event. As mentioned above, it’s rare for DAs to charge officers who kill. And according to Stinson’s police crimes data, of the 155 officers prosecuted for murder or manslaughter since 2005, only about one-third resulted in a criminal conviction. One-third were acquitted in court, and another one-third of cases are still pending.
What are the leading causes of police brutality in the United States?
Various factors contribute to police violence in America. While high rates of gun ownership among Americans likely contribute to higher rates of fatal shootings by police, rates of violent crime in cities did not determine rates of killings by police. For example, the Buffalo and Newark police departments had relatively low rates of fatal police violence despite high crime rates. On the other hand, Spokane and Orlando had relatively low crime rates with higher rates of deadly police violence.
There is also a long history of police violence in the United States. White men initially created police departments to control enslaved people and Native Americans, and violence has been a part of American police forces since their inception.
Another challenging characteristic of American policing is the decentralization of agencies. According to a 2016 Department of Justice survey, at least 12,200 local law enforcement agencies and 3,000 sheriff’s offices operate independently with minimal oversight. About 90% of those agencies employ fewer than 50 officers. And nearly 50% of local departments have fewer than ten officers.
That fragmentation makes it nearly impossible to mandate consistent standards in police training, data collection, use of force policies, and accountability for officers who repeatedly use excessive force. As a result, police officers in the United States are often poorly trained to practice de-escalation in stressful situations. And when agencies fail to collect or release public records of excessive force and fatal police shootings, that contributes to a culture of unseen and unchecked officer misconduct and vicious cycles of community despair.
Recommendations to prevent police killings
These sobering numbers suggest that policing in the United States requires fundamental transformation. The frequency of police killings and the racial disparities pervading those police brutality statistics is a public health crisis that needs urgent action.
Civil rights organizations have long called for police accountability in the US. And the brutal killing of George Floyd accelerated a cultural and political revolution against unjust police violence targeting African-Americans and other people of color. And public approval for the Black Lives Matter movement remains strong, with 55% of U.S. adults expressing support.
To help reduce fatal police encounters and increase public safety, Congress and all 50 states should pass police reform bills to provide the following interventions: