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by Peter Moskos

August 25, 2014

Race and justifiable police homicides (IV): On the increase

Fact 4: Police-involved killings are going up. This one surprised me. Because police-involved shootings are generally correlated with overall homicides. But homicides are more or less steady right now, and down 10,000 since 1998 (14,000 in 1998, 13,000 in 2012).

The trend is about five more killings a year, for the past 15 years. Keep in mind this is based on flawed data. So it could be indicative or something, or maybe it's not.

Meanwhile the trend is for fewer officers to get shot and killed. (If you go back further, like to the 1970s when more than 100 officers were shot and killed each year, the trend is way down.)

So cops may just be quicker on the draw. Or perhaps too quick on the draw. Or some combination of the two.

The next post examines if black police are more or less likely to kill people. What do you think?

As a side note, justifiable killings by civilians have been increasing at an even greater rate over the past 15 years. From 191 in 1998 to 309 in 2012. I would assume (but do not know) that "stand your ground" laws have something to do with this. Also, (surprising to me) the race relationship of those killings have become even more intra-racial (and the greatest increase is seen in justified killings by black).

[Data on police fatal shootings comes from the Officer Down Memorial Page.]


Anonymous said...

Interesting post. I’m not an expert, but as a New Yorker, I wonder about the NYPD’s shooting statistics relative to these. According to the NYPD’s 2012 “Annual Firearms Discharge Report” NYPD officers killed 16 people in 2012, and no NYPD were killed by suspects. The report also says that 58 people in total were killed by the NYPD in the years 2008-2012. According to the ODMP, only two NYPD officers were killed by suspects in that period (more died by accident or illness). This implies that the NYPD has recently been a lot more trigger happy than other police departments. Could that be true?

John Thacker said...

Also, (surprising to me) the race relationship of those killings have become even more intra-racial (and the greatest increase is seen in justified killings by black).

Self-defense has always been an option; "stand your ground" laws tend to take some of the discretion out of the hand of the prosecutors, judges, and juries. I have actually heard some police and prosecutor groups attack "Stand Your Ground" laws on the precise theory that it makes it difficult to get a conviction when two "bad guys" (implied generally to be both black) with prior records clash and only one survive. In such cases, the groups would often like to prosecute whoever survives, on the theory that they were both gang members or drug dealers or whatever.

For that reason, I'm not surprised that such laws would lead to an increase in justified killings by blacks. (As opposed to only killings of blacks by whites being seen as justified.)

PCM said...


No. Compared to other big cities, the NYPD is *very* restrained on shooting. The average for the past 10 years in 12 deaths a year (2012 was a high year).

That puts NYC at just about the national average for such police involved fatalities, but NYC is a big city. So being at the national average is pretty impressive (kind of like our homicide rate).

Overall, with the exception of last year, the numbers have been going down for a while. Also, total NYPD shootings (including non-lethal) remain quite low, about 30 a year (and wasn't up last year). Maybe last their aim was just better. Or they got lucky.

PCM said...

Good point, J.T.

Anonymous said...

I too think of the NYPD as relatively restrained. It just struck me that, according to your charts, in the last five years the ratio of officers shot dead to suspects shot dead is about 8 to 1 nationwide. But among the NYPD it’s 58 to 1 (that’s if you only count shooting deaths; another NYPD officer was pushed to his death, I believe). That said, I wonder if part of the explanation is that the NYPD keeps more accurate numbers regarding suspect shooting deaths.

PCM said...

But by my calculations the NYPD ratio is more like 15:1.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the NYPD policing (almost) always with partners, unlike most other police?

Either way, given how rare police deaths are, I wouldn't read too much into that, statistically.

Ariel said...

I've just reached this post and thought it time to comment. The metric of deaths is wrong, it should be shootings. Otherwise you must account for the difference today in survivability.

We have fewer people dying in car accidents, but it isn't because we have fewer accidents.

PCM said...


You're absolutely right. But data on shooting is much less reliable than data on homicide. We don't know how many people get shot by police, nationwide (though I wonder if such data is in the UCR. I'm not certain. But it's not in their homicide supplement I'm using.)

I use homicides for convenience and reliability. But medical care *has* improved. And this alone could account for the decreasing number of policing dying.

If I remember correctly, in NYC homicides decreased about 10% between 2000 and 2010. And this drop was likely due only to better EMS and hospital treatment. The number of shootings didn't drop at all.