Police Killed 1,183 People in 2022. Despite a Viral Claim, That’s Not a ‘Record High.’
The last few years have seen a sort of unprecedented interest in ameliorating law enforcement misconduct. It’s a noble goal. Achieving it, like any goal, requires an accurate understanding of the scope of the problem.
It seems many do not have that. “‘It never stops’: killings by US police reach record high in 2022,” says The Guardian. “Last Year Was Deadliest Year on Record for Police Violence in the US,” reads a headline at Bloomberg.
But that’s not reality. And effectively confronting any issue necessitates operating in the real world.
The recent reports are tied to data from Mapping Police Violence, a research group run by activist Samuel Sinyangwe, who tracks deadly law enforcement encounters across the country. The numbers are meticulously compiled, and Sinyangwe found that, in 2022, cops shot and killed 1,183 people. We should want to reduce that number as much as possible. But raw data typically mean very little without background to compare and contextualize. That’s especially glaring in this conversation, where people are drawing historical conclusions without invoking history.
Buried in the news is that the record high refers to a sampling spanning less than a decade; the first year available on Sinyangwe’s site is 2013, when some activists rightfully insisted that such data be compiled, centralized, and published. Numbers on use of force have always been hard to come by—police departments aren’t known for transparency, despite being an arm of the government employed by taxpayers. Yet even with those significant constraints, there’s still enough available information to know what should be fairly obvious: Police violence was substantially worse in prior decades, when the public conversation about police abuse and reform was still in its nascent stages.
Let’s first look at New York City, which receives outsized attention in the debate around criminal justice issues, both from reformers and nonreformers. From 1970 to 1974, police shot and killed an average of 62 people per year in a population of 7.5 million people, according to data from Fatal Encounters compiled by Peter Moskos, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. From 2015 to 2021, police shot and killed an average of nine people a year, in a population that has grown to over 8.7 million people.
Skeptics can also look to Los Angeles, where the annual average declined from 30 people killed to 15 (as the population expanded by about one million residents); Philadelphia, which saw a decrease of 18 people killed annually to four; Detroit, where the number went from 26 also to four; and Chicago, which, from the early- to mid-1970s, ranked an
Article from Reason.com