A Comprehensive Analysis of Fatal Police Violence in the United States from 1980 to 2019

This page has been updated with the removal of an image that was insensitive and inappropriate. We regret the image distracted from important research to better understand fatal police violence in the U.S., particularly the disproportionate burden of deaths experienced by Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous populations, as noted in the paper. Read the statement by NIMHD Director, Dr. Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable

In 2019, over 13% of global deaths due to police violence occurred in the U.S., yet the U.S. accounted for just 4% of the global population. To better understand fatal police violence in the U.S., particularly the disproportionate burden of deaths experienced by Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous* populations, a recent study supported in part by NIMHD quantified the extent of under-reporting of deaths due to police violence in the U.S. National Vital Statistics System (NVSS). The purpose of this study was to provide an updated, comprehensive analysis and framework to evaluate police violence fatalities at the state-level and accurately disaggregate mortality data by race and ethnicity.

The study investigators compared data from the NVSS (from 1980-2018) with three non-governmental, open-source databases on police violence: Fatal Encounters (from 2005-2019), Mapping Police Violence (from 2013-2019), and The Counted (from 2015-2016). They standardized age, sex, state, year of death, and race and ethnicity of each decedent from each database. Race and ethnicity were categorized as non-Hispanic Black, non-Hispanic White, non-Hispanic other races (including Indigenous* populations), and Hispanic of any race. The investigators used The Counted as the baseline from which data from all other databases were compared and database biases were assessed using network meta-regression (NMR). NMR is a mixed-effects and log-transformed linear regression model. The authors assumed that systemic biases between all databases would vary by state, race, and ethnicity and remain constant across age and sex.

The investigators estimated that the NVSS under-reported 55.5% of deaths due to police violence in the U.S., representing 17,100 (95% UI 16,600-17,600) out of 30,800 (95% UI 30,300 – 31,300) deaths from 1980 to 2018. The proportion of under-reported deaths was largest among non-Hispanic Black persons, of which 59.5% were misclassified, followed-by non-Hispanic White persons (56.1%), Hispanic persons of any race (50.0%), and non-Hispanic persons of other races (32.6%). Under-reporting also varied widely by state.

Age-standardized mortality due to police violence was 0.69 per 100,000 people for non-Hispanic Black persons. This was nearly 3.5 times higher than non-Hispanic White persons, two times higher than Hispanic persons of any race, and 4.6 times higher than non-Hispanic persons of other races. The mortality rates for non-Hispanic Black persons were higher than non-Hispanic White persons for every year included in the analysis. In the past decade (2010-2019), mortality rates for non-Hispanic Black persons increased in 42 states compared with non-Hispanic White persons. Additionally, the estimated deaths for all men were over 2000% higher than women during the same time frame.

Together, this study represents one of the most comprehensive analyses of deaths due to police violence in the U.S. The authors reported disproportionate rates of mortality by race and ethnicity that varied considerably at the state level. These results reflect the need for evidence-based strategies to address systemic racism and discrimination in policing in the U.S. and the likely direct and indirect biases in reporting to the NVSS. This study highlights the need to use a combination of open-source and governmental databases to more accurately and comprehensively evaluate deaths due to police violence and the need for disaggregation of such data by population group and area. Importantly, the authors provided a new research framework to guide future studies and provide public policy and health officials with additional data to inform policing practices and reporting within communities across the U.S.

Citation: GBD 2019 Police Violence US Subnational Collaborators. (2021). Fatal police violence by race and state in the USA, 1980-2019: a network meta-regression. The Lancet, 398, 10307. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(21)01609-3.

*The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) uses the categories American Indian or Alaska Native to designate persons having origins in any of the original peoples of North and South America (including Central America), and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment. The term Indigenous is used by the investigators in this study.

Page updated November 13, 2021