REPORT: Police Shootings Are a Bigger Problem Than Previously Thought

By Alfonso Serrano Dec 11, 2017

The country’s largest local police departments shoot Black Americans at a higher rate than people of other races and ethnicities, according to a report from Vice News released today (December 11).

The report, "Shot By Cops and Forgotten," looked at the 50 largest police departments based on full-time employees, which covered about 148,000 staffers who serve 54 million Americans. Vice News received data it deemed sufficient for analysis from 47 of these departments; some departments only released information after the threat of legal action. The outlet also obtained some of its data from district attorneys and local media reports. The report does not include data on Native Americans, who at least one study says are killed at higher rates than other people in the United States.


The report also found that the number of unarmed people shot by police is undercounted, and that American police shoot people at more than twice the rate calculated in previous analyses. Vice News based these findings on tallies of shootings in the same communities compiled by other media outlets, while noting that some police departments don’t keep track of non-fatal shootings by officers. Between 2010 and 2016, local police departments shot at least 3,631 people, 1,378 of them fatally and 2,700 non-fatally. The report could not account for the remaining 283 shootings.

Although several independent organizations launched national shooting tallies in recent years, and some states began counting internally, very few United States police departments participate in a federal initiative to track shooting data, Vice News notes.

The report says:

But just 35 police departments participate in the federal initiative today, out of 18,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies. And as Vice News found, some departments don’t have systems in place to track nonfatal shootings by their own officers. Others wouldn’t provide data on demographics or whether the people they shoot are armed, making it hard to judge why and how often cops use deadly force or the efficacy of reforms.

For years, public officials have deplored insufficient government data on police shootings. As the Vice News report notes, former FBI Director James Comey, called the lack of data "embarrassing."

In 2015, in response to this criticism and to the civil unrest that followed the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a White police officer, the FBI vowed to increase the collection of data on the use of excessive force by police. Stephen L. Morris, assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division, told The Washington Post at the time:

We are responding to a real human outcry. People want to know what police are doing, and they want to know why they are using force. It always fell to the bottom before. It is now the highest priority.

The Vice News report juxtaposes its data with personal stories from several, mostly Black, shooting victims Texas to Georgia to Washington state to Pennsylvania.

The full report can be found here.