Justice Department

Police Shootings: By the Numbers

According to Census data, there were roughly 318,000,000 people in the United States in 2014. A Justice Department report determined that in 2012 there were roughly 750,000 sworn police officers in the U.S. The Washington Post reports that roughly 1,000 people were killed by police in 2015.

Doing the imperfect math on this data, that means that police killed less than 0.01% of the total U.S. population in 2015. Assuming a one-to-one ration of officers-killing-civilians, that means that roughly 0.13% of officers were involved in the killing of civilians in 2015. This doesn’t consider the ratio of people who were engaged in violent behavior when shot, but it’s almost impossible to really break down the numbers of people who were “instigating or escalating” versus “blameless of” their killings.

Although that’s still a troubling percentage, it’s worth keeping in perspective the very low number of officers involved in fatal shootings of civilians. Of course, this doesn’t account for the people that the police shot but didn’t kill, or harmed in other ways not quantifiable by death statistics, but making inferences from this data, it appears that the vast majority of police do not commit acts of violence against people.

Nonetheless, it’s also worth noting that in 2012 black Americans accounted for about 31% of police killings even though they make up about 13% of the total population. That means that blacks are far more likely to be killed than are whites, or any other ethnic group, period. This is true even when you factor out the number of unarmed people killed by police.

In light of the most recent high-profile and disturbing police shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, it’s distressing to realize just how few officers are ever even tried in court for these killings.

The Takeaway: the overwhelming majority of police don’t kill people at all, but when they do, they’re more likely to kill black Americans.