Civil Liberties

Death by Cop

Stop or they'll shoot


According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), violent crime in the United States decreased in 2013, continuing a long trend. The numbers were also good for law enforcement safety: Just 27 police officers were killed as a result of criminal acts, and the number of assaults against law enforcement officers was down as well.

Given that, one might assume that the police themselves would have to resort to violence less frequently. Yet according to another set of FBI statistics, homicides caused by police officers are at a two-decade high. Law enforcement officers killed 461 people in 2013 in incidents that were ruled justified. It's the third year in a row the numbers have increased, a stark contrast to the data on crime levels.

The statistics on homicides by cop are also unreliable. Unlike with the numbers on violent crime, agencies are not required to report to the FBI homicides that are deemed justified. Many do not, which means untold deaths are missing from the picture. In December, The Wall Street Journal attempted to determine how far off the FBI's data actually are; it concluded that more than 500 deaths caused by police were missing from the figures between 2007 and 2012.