More than half of U.S. police-involved killings go unreported or misclassified

The Lancet study also confirmed that Black Americans are more likely to die from police violence in the U.S. than any other ethnic group.

A new study based on research conducted at the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation found that between 1980 and 2019, more than 55% of deaths from police violence were either misclassified or were unreported. 

This equates to more than 17,000 deaths. 

Catherine Walker gives a testimonial about her son, Grecharo Mack, who was fatally shot by LAPD in April 2018, while she participates in a protest near City Hall on the first anniversary of George Floyd’s murder in May. (Photo: Apu Gomes/Getty Images)

The study was published in The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal that also discovered Black Americans are more likely to die from police violence than any other ethnic group. The study, of 1980 to 2019, is one of the longest to date to research police violence in the U.S. 

“Recent high-profile police killings of Black people have drawn worldwide attention to this urgent public health crisis, but the magnitude of this problem can’t be fully understood without reliable data,” said University of Washington School of Medicine researcher Fablina Sharara, a co-lead author of the study, according to reporting from The Guardian. 

The methodology used included comparing data from the U.S. National Vital Statistics System and open-source material like news reports and public record requests. 

The researchers found that the NVSS misclassified nearly 60% of all fatal police encounters involving Blacks and approximately 50% of those involving Hispanic people. 56% of the deaths of white people were also misclassified. 

According to Sharara, “inaccurately reporting or misclassifying these deaths further obscures the larger issue of systemic racism that is embedded in many U.S. institutions, including law enforcement.” 

She notes the deaths are underreported or misclassified for many reasons, including the fact that many police and coroners departments work closely together, adding, “the same government responsible for this violence is also responsible for reporting on it.” 

The study found that men are more often the victims of police violence, with 30,600 police-involved deaths and 1,420 among women between 1980 and 2019. 

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