Federal Stats on Police Killings to Remain Incomplete, Confusing, Mostly Useless

FBI numbers have huge gaps from non-participating law enforcement agencies.


"You're not even a statistic."
Credit: Photographerlondon | Dreamstime.com

As killings by police officers across the country have gotten more and more attention over the past few years (increasing in number even as crime rates have gone down), so, too, has the media provided more attention to the fact that we have no reliable national statistics for the number of people killed by police officers. Regardless of whether such shootings are completely justified or a little sketchy, or worse, we don't even have good numbers from the government.

We do have some numbers provided by the federal government, but they're terrible and nobody writing about or analyzing police shooting statistics should use them. The FBI does document police killings reported to them voluntarily by law enforcement agencies, and many municipalities do not participate. Their numbers are so wildly off as to be completely useless.

The situation might not be changing much anytime soon. The Guardian, which has in response to the current zeitgeist created its own database to track how many people have been killed by the police in the United States, notes that FBI Director James Comey has decided participation will remain voluntary for now:

Writing as the FBI released its annual crime statistics, James Comey said an existing voluntary system, under which police departments around the country choose whether or not to submit data on homicides by their officers, will carry on.

Comey said the FBI would try to collect more information – but gave no specific details about how this would be done.

He said of the current information collected: "As helpful as this information is, however, we need more law enforcement agencies to submit their justifiable homicide data so that we can better understand what is happening across the country."

How useless are the federal numbers? In 2014, the FBI documented 444 "justifiable homicides" by police under this voluntary reporting. The no-frills website "Killed by Police" documented 1,107 deaths for 2014. The Guardian, which just started its database in 2015, has recorded 871 deaths at the hands of police so far this year, twice the FBI's numbers, and we've still got three months left.

Read more from The Guardian here.

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  1. I’d say that my confidence in federal statistics is at an all time low.

    Why, just yesterday in the ENB article, I learned that ass rape didn’t count as rape in federal statistics. I’m kind of curious to know what that fuck it was counted as.

    1. TLC from the government?

    2. Federal statistics are starting to have a certain Soviet flavor.

  2. And the government usually loves its databases. I wonder what’s different there.

  3. “Mostly useless”, the best kind of useless.

  4. The feds shouldn’t have the power to commandeer state and local officials, even to mandate reporting that we want. And even if they can do the same thing legally by threatening to withdraw funding that’s still the same pernicious centralization of power.

  5. I’d say licking “hello” on Snowden guarantees some extra animated scrutiny from our digital hoverboards.

    1. And from his girlfriend as well.

      Sorry, I usually never make fun of typos.

  6. Aren’t the words “on police killings” redundent?

  7. Hiding the number of people murdered by cops is necessary because heroes risk their lives to protect you fucking pansy asses and I hope the next time you need help the L-E-Os take their sweet time getting to you because I’m not unstable at all and where’s my fucking donut.

  8. [Comey said] “As helpful as this information is, however, we need more law enforcement agencies to submit their justifiable homicide data so that we can better understand what is happening across the country.”

    “Dammit, Jim, I’m an FBI Director, not a statistician!”

  9. in a banana republic the police where balaclavas and kill in secret. we should all thank James Comey for ensuring the US follows the lead of advanced republicas like Venezuela, Ecuador and El Salvador.

  10. Well thank God we have Obama’s Task Force On 21st Century Policing taking care of business “by finding innovative work already underway in these diverse communities and bringing their leaders together with top technologists, researchers, data scientists and design experts, the Police Data Initiative is helping accelerate progress around data transparency and analysis, toward the goal of increased trust and impact. Through the Initiative, key stakeholders are establishing a community of practice that will allow for knowledge sharing, community-sourced problem solving, and the establishment of documented best practices that can serve as examples for police departments nationwide.”

    Best practices, key stakeholders, accelerating progress toward the goal, knowledge sharing and community-based problem solving – what the hell do you want, a goddamn synergistic paradigm on a going-forward basis or some shit?

  11. It’s best that we don’t track statistics on guns at all.

    Nor should be have gun laws at all.

    Just let anyone have a gun and we’ll just deal with the consequences later.

    So when some retard shows up at your child’s school and kills a few, and then kills himself, we can sit around, have a pity party, and proclaim the incident as an unavoidable tragedy.

  12. Cops should have to document every round fired.

    Why did you shoot, and what did you hit?

    I’m pretty sure that’s the basic standard for the rest of us when we fire our guns in public. Even the game warden wants to know what my bullets are made of and what exactly I killed.

    When someone dies during a clinical trial, the pharmaceutical company isn’t the one who gets to decide if it was an unrelated accident.

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