Often times, police officers face incredibly violent and difficult situations while in the line of duty. These stressful work conditions, coupled with emotional exhaustion, sometimes result in lives lost. Unfortunately, in the United States, lives lost due to police shooting seems to be an all too common occurrence. Even more tragic is that many times the victims were innocent and posed no direct threat to the responsible police officer. These officers are not likely to face charges other than paid suspension and the police department protects their names 20% of the time. The problem is so common that in 2015, for example, approximately 945 people were killed by police. As of July 2016, an estimated 971 people have died by police fire. This article takes a closer look at exactly who these police shooting victims are.
Analysis of Police Shootings by Race, Gender, Age, and Mental Health Status
Males in their Thirties and Early Forties the Most Common Victims
A brief glance at the statistics indicates alarming gender and racial disparities. For instance, the vast majority of police shootings are of men, 95.8% to be exact. Of all shootings, 35.8% of victims are between 30 and 44 years of age. Not only do men make up most of the deaths, but male police officers are generally responsible for these shootings as well. Female officers are rarely involved in shootings as they are more likely to resort to other deescalation methods.
Are African Americans More Likely to be Shot by Police?
What is perhaps most alarming about these statistics, is that African Americans make up 26% of police shooting deaths and another 50% are White. At face value, these numbers do not seem to suggest a problem with racism in the police force. However, African Americans only make up about 12.6% of the American population, while White Americans make up 72.4%. This discrepancy means that police are 2.5 times more likely to shoot African Americans. In contrast, 17.4% of victims are Hispanic, which more accurately reflects their share of the population. Approximately 6.6% of police shooting victims are of unknown race or ethnicity.
Of these deaths, most of the victims were armed. However, a large number of individuals were unarmed when shot by the police. In 2015, 40% of these unarmed victims were African American. The other 60% was made up of Whites, Hispanics, Asians, Native Americans, and other races. This is concerning because the police force consists of approximately 87% White male officers nationwide. Some people suggest that these incidences occur because African Americans are more likely to be involved in violent crimes or live in high-crime communities. Research, however, has suggested that there is no correlation between racial crime rates and racial bias in fatal police shootings.
Around one-quarter (25.6%) of police shooting victims are later discovered to be mentally ill. This percentage is calculated by family or police department reporting. Unreported mental illnesses go uncounted. Based on this number, people with mental illnesses are 4 times more likely to be shot by police. This tragedy is often attributed to police training. Typical police response involves yelling commands in order to assume control of the situation. With individuals with mental illnesses or in a mental health crisis, this approach is counterproductive and can quickly escalate a situation. Experts suggest police should remain calm and speak in lower volumes.
How Do We Reduce Police Shootings in the United States?
Given that police shootings are increasingly becoming a more prevalent and visible concern within the United States, many experts have suggested new processes and procedures for decreasing the frequency of such incidents. Most of these suggestions involve new training programs that focus on conflict avoidance. Others suggest a mixture of retraining old staff and bringing on new staff, primarily women and people of non-white ethnicities. Critics of conflict avoidance training suggest that this approach could cause unnecessary pauses when police should be acting quickly, potentially leading to increased police deaths. One thing is clear, if police shootings continue to go unpunished and unaddressed, the problem will likely increase.