There’s little doubt that the police have a tough job to do. Unfortunately, sometimes that includes using deadly force in chaotic, dynamic, and ambiguous circumstances. The accidental shooting in Times Square this past weekend of two innocent bystanders by police points up the complexities and dangers of using firearms during street encounters.
But, what do we really know about police shootings on a national scale? Does anyone track them, and what might those numbers tell us?
While there are some ad hoc attempts to count the overall number of people killed by police (not just by firearms), official statistics aren’t compiled for such deaths. Nor is there any centralized reporting of police shootings that don’t result in death, such as the recent Times Square incident.
The FBI does compile stats on the number of felons killed by police as part of its reporting on justifiable homicides but, by definition, that doesn’t include unjustified shootings, incidents involving non-felons, or other shooting incidents that don’t result in death.
The upshot is that we don’t really know how many police shootings occur every year and whether or not there are any patterns in that data that could help us better understand and prevent improper use of firearms by police.
The FBI has said that it is, in fact, not allowed to collect such information currently, and that congressional action would be required in order to allow the agency to do so.
Frankly, it’s hard to believe that the police themselves are not demanding better collection and reporting of deadly force information. Doing so would not only serve to improve police training and potentially reduce the exposure to liability from bad shootings, but also to possibly save lives of both police and citizens.
Police officers themselves often suffer emotionally and psychologically in the wake of shootings, including serious mental health issues that contribute to suicide. Reducing the number of shootings through enhanced training could benefit officers as well.
As citizens, we should also be demanding that such data be collected, analyzed, and used to improve police service in our local communities. The stakes are just too high not to use all the tools available to protect everyone from unnecessary injury and death as the result of a police encounter.
If you’re concerned about this, contact your elected representatives and let them know you want the FBI to collect information on police shootings.
And, let us know how you feel about the issue here by voting in this week’s poll and leaving a comment below!
Have a great week.
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