About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

October 30, 2015

Killed by police, Washington Post analysis

Washington Post reporters are doing what journalists are supposed to do. They're looking at those killed by police (like the Guardian, but a bit more fairly).

815 have been shot dead by police this year as of right now (the Guardian, just FYI, pushes that number to 948. That's a 15 increase based on people that really shouldn't be counted because it includes things like suicide and non-police custody).

Of the 815, 31 are labeled "undetermined" in terms of "threat level" and thus questionable as to their justification. Of those 10 each were white, black, and hispanic. But even among those 30, 11 had a deadly weapon.

76 of the 815 were "unarmed" (28 of 76 black). 29 of those 76 "unarmed" are labeled "attack in progress." 39 "other." 8 "undetermined."

Overall, 203 are determined to be mentally ill. That's one in four. And 40 percent of all whites. "Just" 15 percent of blacks are considered mentally ill. I assume there are labeling errors here. I suspect more mentally ill blacks are not labeled as mentally ill when killed by police. But hell if I know. Regardless, that difference jumps out at me.

Of the total number, 390 were white, 208 were black, 134 hispanic. 32 were women.

I keep harping on the state differences. And for good reason. The top ten states by rate (from the Guardian) of police-involved homicides (from the Post) have about 20 of the US population and 298 (36 percent) of police-involved homicides. The rate of police-involved killings in the ten worst states, (extrapolated from 10 to 12 months) about 5.4 per 100,000, is greater than the overall level of homicide in the United States. Period.


Meanwhile the best ten states (police in these states are least likely to kill people) have nearly the same population as the ten worst states just and 67 (8 percent) police-involved homicides. That's an annual rate of about 1.2 per 100,000.

That's a big difference.

The states where police kill the most are OK, NM, WY, AK, AZ, LA, WV, NV, CA, and CO.
The states with the least lethal cops are VT, ME, RI, CT, NY, ND, PA, MA, IL, and IA.

Is gun control a factor? Maybe. The top 10 average rank is 15 according to the Brady Campaign's rank of gun control. The bottom ten rank 31. But I suspect that is mutual causation or correlation without causation. Gun culture in general more than gun control in particular. There are outliers galore: California ranks 1 on gun control and cops killed 150 people; meanwhile Vermont (1/60th the size of California, mind you) ranks 44 on gun control, but police have killed nobody.

The biggest divider I can see is simply East/West. You can draw a sharp line between the top 10 and bottom 10 with the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers.


Anonymous said...

Big things that are going on with Western states vs Eastern? Meth and weather. As I recall you've joked before about how if it was up to the police it would rain all the time. Take a look at rainfall totals in those western states vs Easter, I swear it's probably a factor.

I'll elaborate on the meth thing a bit for all you eastern guys who've never seen it. Meth hugely prevalent out west. In my unit (specialty squad that does a lot of street work, not narcs), it's easily the drug we see the most often.

I think there are key differences with meth vs heroin users that make violence more likely in interactions with the cops. Meth users don't really have a downtime until they finally collapse and sleep. Heroin users get squirrely when they're jonesing and will do things out of desperation to get a fix, but then they get that fix and go on the nod and mellow back out. Meth users are the godamn worst. They've got less down time because they're often up for days. And when they use they get all wound up and fighty as well. And at the end of the multi day bender they're not winding down, if anything they're the most dangerous, because that's when the paranoia is really setting in. Heroin users have the fight of not wanting to back to jail, but meth users with a lot of paranoia get it in their head that you're there to kill them and in their mind they're literally fighting for their lives.

Anonymous said...

And relatedly, when you mentioned once you'd never even seen meth. I had a similar reaction to that suspect in the recent NYPD shooting being addicted to PCP. That stuff is still around? The 80's called and want their drugs back.

Moskos said...

Part me thinks nobody is *really* on PCP. I mean, seriously? Why?

The 80's are gonna be pissed off!

Moskos said...

I once had a nice conversation with a former meth dealer at a party. I got him a drink and grilled him hard about the drug. He too said the main problem with meth, the root cause of all the paranoia and violence, is lack of sleep.

Bill Harshaw said...

Really surprised that at the state level race isn't a factor. I would have guessed that the old Confederacy states would have had the highest rates--not so at all.

Concerned citizen said...

Unless I'm misunderstanding something, blacks are under-represented as police shooting victims as compared to their rate of violent crime.

~ 13% of the population is black.

~ 50% of homicides are committed by blacks.

But, according to the Wash Post data, only

~ 26% of the people shot dead by police so far this year were black.

Apologies if I made a bonehead mistake here.

Moskos said...

No. I've written about that before. Seems like a pretty important bit of data (sometimes known as the denominator) that is left out of the equation.

Of course one can't automatically assume police killings should perfectly reflect the homicide rate. But it seems like a very reasonable initial assumption to make, using murder as a proxy for potential threat. It's certainly better than using overall percentage in the population. I mean it would be quite shocking of blacks were only 13 percent of those killed by police given the huge racial disparities in violence.


Amy Charles said...

I live in IA and there's no shortage of meth. What there is is a long history of prudence, a sense of civic responsibility, and slowness to react. My understanding is that gun regs, while insanely lax next to the Eastern states I came from, are tougher than in most of the country. Canadian friends have called my town "surprisingly Canadian", and you may notice that there's not much of a problem in Canada (which also has plenty of meth) with people murdering each other with guns. (Or at all, really.)

In most areas of the Eastern states there is no presumption that you grow up with guns and just have them hanging around. While there's a long history of hunting, presumably you want to eat the animal after you kill it, which means blowing it to smithereens is undesirable. We are much more amenable to "government interference" there, which is also why two of those states had universal healthcare long before anyone else in the country did (except old people) and the educational systems tend to do well.

Can't explain IL for you. No shortage of police brutality there, though. See under Homan.

Cowboy and slave histories breed very different atittudes about guns, violation, and violence. I would put my money on that making the difference.

Anonymous said...

Amy, what on earth are you talking about? We're talking about suspects being killed by police, not murder rates. And even if we were, take a look at top 25 cities in this country with the highest murder rates. Non CA western states aren't there. The Midwest and East are very well represented.

And "blowing it to smithereens is undesirable"? What do you think people out west are hunting with? Bazookas? Apache helicopters?

Moskos said...

But there may be something about police killings being somehow related, even if indirectly, from violent culture descending from cowboys and slavery.