source: New York Times
published: 30 September 2021
Police killings in America have been undercounted by more than half over the past four decades, according to a new study that raises pointed questions about racial bias among medical examiners and highlights the lack of reliable national record keeping on what has become a major public health and civil rights issue.
The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and published on Thursday in The Lancet, a major British medical journal, amounts to one of the most comprehensive looks at the scope of police violence in America, and the disproportionate impact on Black people.
Researchers compared information from a federal database known as the National Vital Statistics System, which collects death certificates, with recent data from three organizations that track police killings through news reports and public records requests. When extrapolating and modeling that data back decades, they identified a startling discrepancy: About 55 percent of fatal encounters with the police between 1980 and 2018 were listed as another cause of death.
The findings reflect both the contentious role of medical examiners and coroners in obscuring the real extent of police violence, and the lack of centralized national data on an issue that has caused enormous upheaval. Private nonprofits and journalists have filled the gap by mining news reports and social media.
“I think the big takeaway is that most people in public health tend to take vital statistics for the U.S. and other countries as the absolute truth, and it turns out, as we show, the vital statistics are missing more than half of the police violence deaths,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which conducted the study.
Study: 55% of Police Killings Don’t Appear in Statistics
1 October 2021