Police shootings by the numbers

By The Daz 

In 2011, according to data I collected, police officers in the United States shot 1,146 people, killing 607. Between January 1, 2011 and January 1, 2012 I used the Internet to compile a national database of police involved shootings. The term "police involved shooting" pertains to law enforcement officers who, in the line of duty, discharge their guns. When journalists and police administrators use the term, they include the shooting of animals and shots that miss their targets. My case files only include instances in which a person is either killed or wounded by police gunfire. My data also includes off-duty officers who discharged their weapons in law enforcement situations. They don't include, for example, officers using their firearms to resolve personal disputes.

I collected this data myself because the U.S. Government doesn't. There is no national database dedicated to police involved shootings. Alan Maimon, in his article, "National Data on Shootings by Police Not Collected," published on November 28, 2011 in the "Las Vegas Review-Journal," wrote "The nation's leading law enforcement agency [FBI] collects vast amounts of information on crime nationwide, but missing from this clearinghouse are statistics on where, how often, and under what circumstances police use deadly force. In fact, no one anywhere comprehensively tracks the most significant act police can do in the line of duty: take a life."

Since the government keeps statistics on just about everything, why no national stats on something this important? The answer is simple: they don't want us to know. Why? Because police shoot a lot more people than we think, and the government, while good at statistics, is also good at secrecy.

The government does maintain records on how many police officers are killed every year in the line of duty. In 2010, 59 officers were shot to death among 122 killed while on the job. This marked a 20 percent jump from 2009 when 49 officers were killed by gunfire. In 2011, 173 officers died, from all causes, in the line of duty. The fact police officers feel they are increasingly under attack from the public may help explain why they are shooting so many citizens.

Who The Police Shoot

A vast majority of the people shot by the police in 2011 were men between the ages 25 and 40 who had histories of crime. Overall, people shot by the police were much older than the typical first-time arrestee. A significant number of the people wounded and killed by the authorities were over fifty, some in their eighties. In 2011, the police shot two 15-year-olds, and a girl who was 16.

The police shot, in 2011, about 50 women, most of whom were armed with knives and had histories of emotional distress. Overall, about a quarter of those shot were either mentally ill and/or suicidal. Many of these were "suicide-by-cop" cases.

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Most police shooting victims were armed with handguns. The next most common weapon involved vehicles (used as weapons), followed by knives (and other sharp objects), shotguns, and rifles. Very few of these people carried assault weapons, and a small percentage were unarmed. About 50 subjects were armed with BB-guns, pellet guns or replica firearms.

The situations that brought police shooters and their targets together included domestic and other disturbances; crimes in progress such as robbery, assault and carjacking; the execution of arrest warrants; drug raids; gang activities; routine traffic stops; car chases; and standoff and hostage events.

Women make up about 15 percent of the nation's uniformed police services. During 2011, about 25 female police officers wounded or killed civilians. None of these officers had shot anyone in the past. While the vast majority of police officers never fire their guns in the line of duty, 15 officers who did shoot someone in 2011, had shot at least one person before. (This figure is probably low because police departments don't like to report such statistics.) Most police shootings involved members of police departments followed by sheriff's deputies, the state police, and federal officers. These shootings took place in big cities, suburban areas, towns, and in rural areas. Big city shootings comprised about half of these violent confrontations in 2011.

Police Shooting Investigations

Almost all police involved shootings, while investigated by special units, prosecutor's offices, or an outside police agency, were investigated by governmental law enforcement personnel. It is perhaps not surprising that more than 95 percent of all police involved shootings were ruled administratively and legally justified. A handful of cases led to wrongful death lawsuits. Even fewer will result in the criminal prosecution of officers. Critics of the system have called for the establishment of completely independent investigative agencies in cases of police involved shootings.

Where People Were Shot

Most Deadly States

California 183 total (102 fatal)
Florida 96 (49)
Illinois 64 (26)
Texas 58 (26)
New York 49 (23)
Pennsylvania 49 (23)
Ohio 45 (28)
Arizona 45 (27)
Maryland 41 (16)
Washington 39 (29)

Least Deadly States

Delaware 0
Vermont 0
North Dakota 1
Wyoming 2 (1)
Alaska 2 (2)
Montana 3 (2)
South Dakota 3 (3)
Hawai 4 (3)
Conneticut 6 (1)
West Virginia 6 (5)
New Hampshire 6 (5)
Idaho 7 (2)
Kansas 7 (5)

Most Deadly Cities

Chicago 46 total (10 fatal)
Los Angeles 22 (14)
Philadelphia 17 (7)
Las Vegas 17 (15)
New York City 16 (6)
Phoenix 15 (10)
Baltimore 15 (5)
Columbus, OH 14 (8)
Atlanta 12 (4)
St. Louis 11 (3)
Cleveland 10 (7)
Miami 10 (6)
Houston 10 (3)

Least Deadly Cities

Boston 1
New Orleans 1 (1)
Portland, ME 1
Buffalo 2
Detroit 2 (1)
Seattle 2 (1)
Denver 2 (2)
Pittsburgh 3 (1)

Cities with High Per Capita Shooting Rates

Fresno, CA 9 total (4 fatal)
Tucson, AZ 8 (6)
Aurora, CO 7 (6)
Oakland, CA 7 (6)
San Jose, CA 7 (3)
Albuquerque, NM 6 (5)
Mesa, AZ 6 (2)
Jacksonville, FL 5 (4)
Syracuse, NY 5 (3)
Orlando, FL 5 (2)
N. Miami Beach, FL 5 (2)
Little Rock, Ark. 5 (1)
Yakima, WA 4 (1)
Bakersfield, CA 4 (3)
Long Beach, CA 4 (2)
Garden Grove, CA 4 (3)
Redding, CA 4 (2)

New York City

In 1971, police officers in New York City shot 314 people, killing 93. (In California, the state with the most police involved shootings in 2011, the police shot 183, killing 102.) In 2010, New York City police shot 24, killing 8. Last year, in the nation's largest city, the police shot 16, killing 6. In Columbus, Ohio, a city one eighth the size of New York, the police shot 14, killing 8. Statistical diversities like this suggest that in the cities with the highest per capita shooting rates, better people ought to be hired, or the existing forces need a lot more training in the use of deadly force.

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