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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Harvard: Call for Police Killings, Police Deaths to be Reported as Notifiable Weekly Public Health Data

Although no reliable official data currently exist on the number of law enforcement-related deaths each year in the U.S., counting these deaths can and should be done because the data constitute crucial public health information that could help prevent future deaths, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

The authors propose that all law enforcement-related deaths — including people killed by police as well as police killed in the line of duty — be treated not just as criminal data but as a “notifiable condition,” and that they be reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by public health and medical professionals and published on a weekly basis, as are a host of other conditions ranging from poisonings to pertussis to polio.

“It is time to bring a public health perspective to this longstanding and terrible problem, from a standpoint that emphasizes prevention and health equity, as opposed to treating these data as if they solely belong to the police and are a matter of criminal justice only,” said Dr. Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology and lead author of the study.

The paper appeared online December 8 in PLOS Medicine.

To support their case — and to highlight the excessive level of police brutality faced by African Americans — the authors present novel data showing that, over the past 50 years, blacks have faced significantly greater risk than whites of being killed by police. In 1965, among Black and White men ages 15-34 across the U.S., blacks were eight times more likely to be killed by police than whites; by 2005, blacks’ excess risk had declined, but was still three times higher than that of whites, on par with current estimates.

The researchers also found variations in risk across U.S. cities over time. New York and Cleveland have been particularly risky cities for blacks; in both cities, between 1960 and 2011, depending on the year, Blacks’ risk of being killed by police ranged anywhere from five to 19 times higher than that of Whites. Read more