Via Balko, in 2011, German police fired a total of 85 rounds in incidents with human beings, killing 6 and injuring 15, with the majority of those rounds (49) fired solely as “warning shots,” meaning they only fired 36 rounds at human beings that entire year. This in a nation of more than 80 million people.
In 2009,* the New York Police Department, serving a city of a little over 8 million people, fired a total of 184 rounds in 47 “adversarial incidents” with human beings, killing 12 and injuring 20. The NYPD explicitly prohibits the use of “warning shots,” so each of these rounds is definitionally a round fired “at” a human being; in only 7 of these 47 incidents, accounting for 4 of the deaths, did the person shot at actually discharge a firearm at the police officer. Together, this all means that the average New Yorker is about 15 times more likely to get shot by a police officer than the average German. It also means that, per capita, New Yorkers are subject to about 60 times as many rounds fired at people by cops than Germans, this despite the fact that the number of rounds discharged by the NYPD in 2009 was by far the fewest since NYPD began tracking this information.
What is more remarkable about this is that the NYPD appears to be amongst the more restrained police forces in the country when it comes to its willingness to use deadly force on civilians.** The approximately 36,000 officers of the NYPD accounted for roughly 5% of the nation’s local and state police forces that year. If the rest of the nation’s local and state law enforcement agencies used firearms on people at the same rate as the NYPD, about 240 people would have been killed by police in “adversarial incidents” in that year. In reality, nearly 500 – 497 – were killed in something approximating these circumstances.***
Though I could not find data on how many were wounded in 2009, it seems that historically, on average, about twice as many are left wounded as are killed. So, roughly 1000 people more people were likely shot by local and state police in 2009 and survived.
If you then extrapolate from the NYPD’s figures that for every person shot by a police officer, approximately 6 rounds are fired at human beings, which seems fair given that, as noted above, the NYPD seems to be more restrained than the average police force, you quickly get to around 9000 rounds fired by local police officers at human beings. If Germany were the size of the US, by comparison, its officers would have fired fewer than 150 rounds at human beings.
Is also nonetheless true that the average American police officer is extraordinarily unlikely to fire his weapon at a human being in a given year – despite being orders of magnitude higher than the discharge rate for the average German police officer, these numbers still only suggest that about one and a half rounds are fired in a given year for every American local police officer. Still, that American police are so incredibly more likely to do so is itself cause for discussion. Even more cause for discussion is that this discrepancy seems to be growing – between 2003 and 2005, the numbers of persons listed as having been killed by police officers by the DOJ were 376, 375, and 377; since 2005, though, the number or persons so killed seems to be fairly consistently hovering close to 450, even as the number of persons killed by the nation’s largest municipal police force, the NYPD, seems to be declining.
So what’s going on here? Why are Americans so much more likely to be shot by the police, and why is this likelihood increasing? What, if anything, can or should be done about this?
*2009 is the last year for which I can find complete national data for civilian deaths incident to arrest in the United States. In 2010, the NYPD killed 8 and injured 16, though the number of rounds it fired in “adversarial incidents” increased.
**Indeed, the primary reason I am using the NYPD’s statistics here is because they do a comparatively commendable job making this type of data publicly available.
***This number may actually underrepresent the numbers of persons killed by law enforcement, as at least 3 states (Georgia, Maryland, and Montana) do not report statistics on this subject; additionally, the national statistics represent only deaths defined as being “in the process of arrest,” though it is unclear whether many, if any, deaths defined as law enforcement “homicide” would fall outside this category.