More than half of all killings by police officers in the United States go unreported – and black Americans are far more likely to be the victim, according to a new study.
Research published in the medical journal The Lancet reported that 55% of deaths from “police violence” in the US between 1980 and 2018 were misclassified or unreported in official police reports.
Black Americans were estimated to be 3.5 times more likely than white Americans to be the victim. The figures reveal “stark inequities”, the study said.
The figures were published as efforts to reform policing in the wake of the murder of George Floyd were abandoned after failing to win support on Capitol Hill.
The George Floyd Justice In Policing Act had been seen as a first step towards addressing the issues of police brutality and racial injustice that have driven the Black Lives Matter movement. Backed by US President Joe Biden as “modest reform”, it stalled in the senate.
Mr Floyd died after police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes during a routine stop on a street in Minneapolis in May 2020. His death sparked worldwide protests and saw Chauvin convicted of murder earlier this year.
Mr Floyd’s name joined the list of victims, campaigners say, whose treatment revealed discrimination in how the black community was treated by law enforcement.
The new study reported that “the burden of fatal police violence is an urgent public health crisis in the USA”.
“Mounting evidence shows that deaths at the hands of police disproportionately impact people of certain races and ethnicities, pointing to systemic racism in policing,” the study added.
The researchers pointed out that medical examiners and coroners were often embedded within police departments, creating “substantial conflicts of interest” that might make them less likely to record police violence as a cause of death.
On calls for police departments to be de-funded or disarmed, which have become hugely divisive issues in the US, they pointed to the experiences of countries like the UK and 18 other countries where only select officers are armed.
“The difference these practices have on loss of life is staggering: no one died from police violence in Norway in 2019, and three people were recorded to have died in England and Wales from police violence between 2018 and 2019.
“To respond to this public health crisis, the USA must replace militarised policing with evidenced-based support for communities, prioritise the safety of the public, and value black lives.”
Lawyer and civil rights activist Toni Jaramilla told Sky News she was “not surprised” at the statistics in the report.
“The police, the district attorneys, the judges are all intertwined and they can be hesitant about reporting a death at the hands of police.
“There needs to be law enforcement reform with some separation in terms of keeping police accountable, where investigators are specially assigned to investigate police misconduct.”
She said signs of some reform had begun to “move the needle”, but that much more was urgently needed.
The study estimated there were 30,800 deaths from what it termed “police violence” between 1980 and 2018, some 17,100 more than reported by the US National Vital Statistics System.