By: Sayer Ji
December 29, 2015
According to a new Harvard study, police violence kills more U.S. citizens, annually, than the flu and pneumonia combined. So why aren’t law-enforcement-related deaths being counted, tracked, and reported, like any other form of mortality affecting the public health?
A highly concerning new report published in the journal PLoS titled “Police Killings and Police Deaths Are Public Health Data and Can Be Counted,” reveals that police killings as reported by 122 major U.S. cities were responsible for more citizen deaths in 2015 than influenza and pneumonia deaths put together.
Alarmingly, the report revealed that, at present, there is no reliable public health data on the number of police killings that occur because of long-standing resistance by police departments to make these data public.
The report explained that, ironically, we only have a sense of how many citizens were killed in the U.S. by police in 2015 because of “The Counted,” a United Kingdom-based website launched on June 1, 2015, by the newspaper The Guardian. According to the report, “the website quickly revealed that 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 Intelligence (FBI).” At the time of the writing of this article [Dec. 29th, 2015], 1126 U.S. citizens have been killed due to police violence in 2015.
When compared to publicly available U.S. statistics on other common causes of death, the scale at which the endemic problem of police violence occurs, and the extent to which it affects the public well-being, comes into clearer view:
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 . As of September 19, 2015, the cumulative 2015 total of 842 US persons killed by the police  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 with the national number of cases of Hepatitis A (890 cases) . Just as epidemic outbreaks can threaten the public’s health, so too can police violence and impunity imperil communities’ social and economic well-being, especially if civil unrest ensues [1,3,5–8].”
The report makes the compelling argument that law-enforcement-related deaths are not just a criminal justice concern, but a public health concern because they involve mortality and affect the well-being of the families and communities of the deceased.