Two years ago a somewhat shadowy person or group began compiling all media accounts of people killed by police. It's at killedbypolice.net. Best I can tell, he/she/it/they do a pretty good job.
According to the site: "Corporate news reports of people killed by nonmilitary law enforcement officers, whether in the line of duty or not, and regardless of reason or method. Inclusion implies neither wrongdoing nor justification on the part of the person killed or the officer involved. The post merely documents the occurrence of a death."
Not that this list is perfect. Certainly there might be some police-involved homicides that don't make the local paper or TV news broadcast. But there can't be too many. From May 2, 2013 to April 8, 2015, there have been 2,177 documented cases of people dying or being killed by police. (The vast majority are shot... but see died after being tased). And one cop killed his own family. Personally I wouldn't include off-duty and not job related, but that's a minor quibble, statistically.
The compiled data is impressive both in its thoroughness and documented nature. And compared to only other data we have, such as the crappy UCR data on justifiable police-involved homicides, this killed-by-police list is gold. It's the first time -- ever -- we can start looking at who police are shooting.
So I played with the data. I refined it and shined it real nice and turned it into a proper SPSS file (and removed the few who weren't killed in the 50 states plus DC). I have everything from when the list started (May 2, 2013) to April 8, 2015. So it's just under two years of data. N = 2,177
So the first thing we learn, which we knew, is that the UCR is a vast undercount. But now we have some idea about how much: a bit more than 50 percent. [For the more statistically inclined, the missing UCR data, at least with regards to race, does seem to be mostly random (which is good), which means the UCR data might be OK for some analysis.]
So we learn that police in America kill about three people a day. Three police-involved deaths a day may seem like a lot. But is it? America is a big country. It doesn't seem like an epidemic. In a typical day, 38 Americans will be murdered, 90 will die in car crashes, 110 Americans will commit suicide, and 120 will overdose on drugs. Maybe we have to begrudgingly accept three police-involved killings a day as par for a violent nation. But maybe not.
I think we could rather easily cut the number of people killed by police in half. That would save the lives of around 500 people a year. But I'll get to that in the third and final post.