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Police shootings are far more common than previously thought

A recent VICE report shows that police shootings are far more common than was previously believed.

Police violence has become a major topic in recent years, especially after the killing of Michael Brown in 2014 by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Since then, protests against police brutality have become common, but actually tracking the figures on police violence remains difficult. Federal data on police shootings is notoriously unreliable and incomplete. That has led to some media organizations trying to compile the data on their own. The latest attempt, from VICE News, shows that overall police shootings, especially against unarmed people, are far more prevalent than previously believed.

More than 500 shootings per year

The VICE News study looked at data from 50 of the nation’s largest police departments. In total, the report found that between 2010 and 2016 police at these departments collectively shot 3,649 people, which works out to about 500 per year. A further 700 other people were also shot at by police, but in those cases the bullets missed. Of those shot, 1,382 died or about one-third of the total.

The results, which are the first to try to track both fatal and non-fatal police shootings, undoubtedly still underestimate the true scope of the problem. Only 50 police departments were included in the study, which covers about 148,000 police officers who collectively serve about 54 million people. By Vice News’ own admission, a true national tally of police shootings that covers all police departments would certainly be much higher.

Many victims are unarmed

One of the most important findings from the report concerns the rate of unarmed people shot by police. The Washington Post, which has been running its own national tally of fatal shootings by police, showed that just five percent of people fatally shot by police in 2016 were unarmed. However, the VICE report, which includes both fatal and non-fatal incidents, shows that 20 percent of people shot by police were unarmed. A further 8 percent were classified as “unknown,” but VICE points out that most of these unknown cases were also probably unarmed since it is in police’s interests to record victims as armed.

The report also shows the role that racial bias plays in these shootings. In total, 55 percent of people shot by police were black, which was 28 percent higher than what the Washington Post’s tally of fatal shootings showed. Black people were also more likely to be shot on occasions that began with either a routine traffic or pedestrian stop. Black people shot by police were also less likely to be armed than white people shot by police.

Holding police accountable

The above data adds valuable information to the ongoing conversation surrounding police violence and brutality. Those who have been victims of such brutality deserve justice. A civil rights attorney can help police brutality victims fight for that justice by holding violent police officers accountable through a civil rights claim.