A new study published this week by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) suggests that police killings have not slowed down during the pandemic, and have even increased in some states compared to previous years. The data analysis for the study was conducted by Justin Nix, an Associate Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice, at the University of Nebraska, in Omaha.
The data showed that there were 511 recorded police killings in the US between January and June of this year, compared with 484 during the same period in 2019. During this span of time in 2018, police across the country had already killed at least 550 people. The numbers are not uncommon, and not the highest seen in recent years, but they are certainly high considering the current circumstances.
The researchers found that the number of people killed by police has averaged out to somewhere near 1,000 each year since 2015. It is hard to get accurate records of police shootings prior to 2015 because police have never openly disclosed that type of data to the public for obvious reasons. After the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, different groups that were concerned about police brutality began to keep count on their own.
The Washington Post has its own regularly updated record of police violence, but unfortunately, like everything else on the paper’s website, this information is locked behind a paywall. The researchers used the Washington Post data for their study, but there are many other websites keeping an ongoing record and they are just as accurate. Mapping Police Violence and Killed By Police.net are often even more up to date than the Washington Post database. Wikipedia also keeps its own running list.
While it is certainly disturbing, it is important to keep an accurate record of the people who are killed by police because it shows the massive scale of the problem, which is exactly why police have been hesitant to hand over this data voluntarily. Instead, journalists and activists are left to sift through media reports, social media posts, and police reports, which still may not account for every police killing.
Udi Ofer, the director of the ACLU’s Justice Division, told NBC News that he expected police killings to go down during the pandemic because the general public was having less contact with police.
“We want to express alarm that even when the nation was on lockdown during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic … that didn’t stop police fatally shooting people at the same rate,” Ofer said.
It is also important to note that the report only counted fatal on-duty shootings and not other types of incidents where victims died during or following a police encounter, like in the cases of George Floyd or Freddie Gray. Another interesting point raised by the researchers is the fact that crime was actually significantly reduced during the pandemic, despite media reports about “crime waves” related to looting. Even with a lower crime rate in most areas and fewer interactions with the public, police are still killing people at an alarming rate.