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Police Killings and Police Deaths Are Public Health Data and Can Be Counted, PLOS Medicine, 2015

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PLOS Medicine: Police Killings and Police Deaths Are Public Health...�J 0.1371/journal.pmed ...

Police Killings and Police Deaths Are Public Health Data and Can
Be Counted
Nancy Krieger

, Jarvis T. Chen, Pamela D. Waterman, Mathew V. Kiang, Justin Feldman

Published: December 8, 2015 • DOI: 10.1371�oumal.pmed.1001915

Citation: Krieger N, Chen JT, Waterman PD, Kiang MV, Feldman J (2015) Police Killings and Police Deaths Are Public
Health Data and Can Be Counted. PLoS Med 12(12): e1001915. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001915
Published: December 8, 2015
Copyright:© 2015 Krieger et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author
and source are credited
Funding: This work was not supported by any funds. Therefore, there were no funders who could have had any role in the
study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
Competing interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
Provenance: Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed



During the past year, the United States has experienced major controversies-and civil unrest-regarding the endemic problem of police violence
and police deaths.
Although deaths of poUce officers are wen documented, no reliable official US data exist on the number of persons killed by the police, in part
because of long-standing and well-documented resistance of police depariments to making these data public.
These deaths, however, are countable, as evidenced by �The Counted," a website launched on June 1, 2015, by the newspaper The Guardian,
published In the United Kingdom, which quickly revealed Iha! by June 9, 2015, over 500 people in the US had been killed by the police since
January 1, 2015, twice what would be expected based on estimates from the US Federal Bureau of lnte!!lgence (FBI).
Law-enforcement-related deaths, of both persons killed by law enforcement agents and also law enforcement agents killed in the line of duty, are a
public health concern, not solely a criminal justice concern, since these events involve mortality and affect the well-being of the fam!l!es and
communities of the deceased; therefore, law-enforcement-related deaths are public health data, not solely criminal justice data.
We propose that law-enforcement-related deaths be treated as a nollfiable condition, which would allow public health departments to report these
data in real-lime, al the !oca! as well as naUonal level, thereby providing data needed to understand and prevent the problem.

AnOfllol>I My•t•ry: Tho Un�•d Slate• Tally ofo,,aU,s Due 10 PoUce V,okmco (To!Counl•d by a Untt�dlfuQ<lom ttow,papor)

During the past year, the United States has experienced major social controversies-and civil unrest-regarding police violence
and police deaths [1,2]. Turning anger to action, the growing social movement #B/acklivesmatter has focused public attention on
the long history and current realities of police brutality, both lethal and non-lethal, directed against the US black population [1,3].
Yet, although the number of US law enforcement agents killed in the line of duty is well documented (for 2015, 26 killed by
shootings as of mid-September, of whom 17 were police officers)[2], no reliable official data exist on the number of US persons
killed by the police [1]. On June 1, 2015, however, The Guardian-a newspaper from the United Kingdom-launched the "The
Counted," the first website that seeks to report, in real-time, the number of US people killed by police, and does so via "monitoring
regional news outlets, research groups, and open-sourced reporting projects" as well as submissions from users [1] (see S1 Table
for additional, albeit less comprehensive and less timely, sources). The Counted's open data, extending back to January 1, 2015,
include: (a) the decedent's geographic location, gender, race/ethnicity, age, and photograph; (b) if the decedent was armed (if yes,
with what kind of weapon); and (c) cause of death ("gunshot," "laser," "struck by vehicle," "death in custody," and "unknown") {1]. Its
data indicate that, as of October 6, 2015, 886 people in the US have been killed by the police since the year's start (217 black, of
whom 64, or 30%, were unarmed)[1]. Moreover, one week after its launch, it reported, on June 9, 2015, that the cumulative number
of persons killed by police in the US had surpassed 500, twice what would be expected based on estimates of the US Federal
Bureau of Investigation [1]. The website reports it will continue documenting data through the end of 2015; it is unknown if it will
continue after this date [1].
It is startling that we, in the US, must rely on a UK newspaper for systematic timely counts of the number of persons killed by the
police. After all, we have a world-class public health system that reports, nationally, in real-time, on numerous notifiable diseases
and also on deaths occurring in 122 cities with populations >100,000 [4]. As of September 19, 2015, the cumulative 2015 total of
842 US persons killed by the police [1] notably exceeded the corresponding totals reported for the 122 cities' 442 deaths under age
25 (all causes) and also 585 deaths (all ages) due to pneumonia and influenza, and likewise exceeded the national totals for
several diseases of considerable concern: measles (188 cases), malaria (786 cases), and mumps (436 cases), and was on par

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12/10/2015 10:39 AM

PLOS Medicine: Police Killings and Police Deaths Are Public Health ...� IO .13 71 /journal.pmed ...

shared, as explained in [9J.

51 Table. Sources reporting law-enforcement-related deaths In the US.

52 Table. US deaths due to legal Intervention: national and city-specific 5-year average annual rate (per 100,000) among US black men and white men
ages 15-34, and rate ratios and differences: 1965, 1975, 1985, 1995, and 2005.

Author Coo!11bu1lo>o•

Wrote the first draft of the manuscript: NK. Contributed to the writing of the manuscript: NK JTC POW MVK JF. Agree with the
manuscript's results and conclusions: NK JTC POW MVK JF. All authors have read, and confirm that they meet, ICMJE criteria for

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2. Associated Press. Are more police gett!ng ktl!ed? A look at officer Deaths. The Seattle Times, September 2, 2015. hllp://­
3. Johnson MS. Street Justice: A History of Police Violence in New York City. Boston, MA: Beacon Press. 2003.
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5, Wen LS, Sharfstein JM. Unrest in Baltimore: the role of public health. JAMA 2015: 313: 2425-2426. doi: 10.1001/jama.2015.5561. pmid:25950149
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income level: 1960-2010. HaNard Publfc Health Revlew2015 (January); 3. hllp://harvardpub!
10. Loflin C, Wiersema 8, McDowal OM, Dobrin A. Underreporting of justifiable homicides committed by police officers in the United States, 1976-1998. Am J
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11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Violent Death Reporting System. (2015). http://www.cdc.govMolencePrevenlion/NVDRS/index.html
12. Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH). Summary of Reportable Diseases, Su,veil/ance, and Isolation and Quarantine Requirements.
Extracted from: 105 CMR 300.000 Deparlmentof Public Health. MDPH, Bureau of Infectious Disease: Jamaica Plain, MA (December 6, 2013).
13. Laughland 0, Swaine J, McCarthy C, Lartey J. Justice department trials system to count killings by US law enforcement. The Guardian, October 5, 2015.





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