It seems you can’t go more than a few days without hearing about excessive police force any more. Stories of police abuse or downright murder are actually giving school shootings a run for their money in the media lately, if you can believe that. It’s just that common, and perhaps the most alarming aspect of that new reality is that those are just the reported cases.
Last year, the number of reported felonious suspects killed by police officers tallied 461, according to a recent FBI report. That’s the highest it’s been in twenty years. One has to wonder what the number would be if it included those not reported, shootings involving non-felonious suspects, as well as innocent members of the community unfortunate enough to find themselves in the crosshairs of Johnny Law. That’s right, 461 police murders – the highest in two decades — is actually the far low end of an unknown, undefined spectrum.
The 461 figure is what’s known as the “justifiable homicide count,” and it was tallied up and documented in the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report, which comes out annually.
That number has come under hard scrutiny lately due to the sheer frequency of police abuse cases that have been making their way to the media.
Think about it, how many news reports and articles have you seen in the last year detailing the murder of a citizen minding their own business, or breaking only a minor law, such as selling loose cigarettes on the street? How many pieces have you seen where the police are called in to help with a mentally ill family member and the police end up killing that person?
And this is just lethal abuse we’re talking about here, and does not include the beatings, the illegal searches, the false arrests. Police abuse is part of the American pulse right now, and everyone feels it. The darker your skin complexion, the more intense the feeling and awareness. I mean, you know there’s a problem when even white America starts noticing and talking about it. And don’t even get started on Ferguson. It’s everywhere. Ferguson is only a microcosm for the country at large.
USA Today undertook an analysis of a seven-year period, from 2005 to 2012, in which it discovered that, on average, 96 murders a year involved the killing of an African American citizen at the hands of a white “peace” officer. As of 2013, that figure had risen for the third consecutive year, and again, that’s just the figures being reported.
There are currently no hard numbers that show conclusively how many citizens are killed by police officers in any given year.
According to several criminal justice analysts, the obvious holes in the data make tracking the numbers rather absurd. It’s an enormous frustration to them, and actually referred to as a scandalous omission of public information. After all, don’t people deserve to know how often they are gunned down by those who are paid through American tax money to “protect and serve?” I mean, do you trust that the numbers are left up to law enforcement to report, themselves? How do we know how “justifiable” any of those murders truly were? There are a lot of questions that need answering, and a lot more conclusive data that needs to be gathered, preferably by an honest third party. How is the tougher question.
Criminologist at the University of Nebraska, Samuel Walker, states that the incomplete data available to work with makes explaining the sudden rise in police murders that much more difficult to understand.
“It could be as simple as more departments are reporting.”
That’s a rosy possibility to hope for, isn’t it? It sure beats the alternative, doesn’t it? But which is true? Is it more accurate reporting or simply more murder? Such questions are exactly why a better system is sorely needed to track this information nationwide.
Walker has long been a strong advocate of a comprehensive, national database for tracking police murders of civilians in the U.S.
“It is irresponsible that we don’t have a complete set of numbers. Whether the numbers are up, down or stable, this [national database] needs to be done. … This is a scandal.”
Complementing Walker’s belief, University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert, a veteran in the field of studying deadly force by police officers, also believes that the numbers being reported annually represent a vast under-reporting of incidents.
As alarming as the 461 figure is, Alpert believes the reality is far more sobering.
Alpert claims most of the major agencies in the field support closer tracking of lethal police encounters, but that a uniform protocol needs to be drawn up and implemented nationwide. Many police departments across the nation are quite small, and there is no consistency for reporting such events, apparently in whether such events even get reported at all, judging by the information presented to researchers and the public.
“Unfortunately, I think there has to be a government mandate for this kind of reporting that ties the responsibility to the communities’ eligibility to receive federal funds. It has to happen, because it has gotten to be an embarrassment.”
I’d say the lack of accountability for record high murders of civilians by “peace” officers should bring more words to the surface than “embarrassment,” but Alpert’s point is certainly taken.
Since 2010, at least seven police departments across the U.S. have been under federal review due to fatal police shootings. From Ferguson to Albuquerque, to apparently the entire state of Florida, police officers have become unhinged with power. Perhaps all that left over military gear they’ve been stockpiling is going to their heads.
The more they kill, however, the more they will have to learn – no justice, no peace.