In the United States, fatal shootings by police are both rare and constant. Tens of millions of people cross paths with police each year, and most of those encounters end without the use of force.
“The vast majority of those fatal shootings are lawful, righteous shootings,” said Daniel Oates, a former police chief in Miami Beach, Aurora, Colo., and Ann Arbor, Mich.
But, he said, “a percentage of them are bad training, bad policy, bad day by the cop, not performing at their best.” Prosecutors charged more officers for on-duty shootings in 2020 in comparison with 2019. Still, Oates said that despite the fusillade of criticism, policing has improved significantly.
“The narrative of the last year has been that ‘Oh my God, police are wildly out of control,’ ” Oates said. “That’s not true. If you tracked that [fatal shooting] data from 30, 40 years ago, I’m sure the numbers would be much, much, much, much higher. There’s been a reform movement around the use of force in American policing.”
The New York City Police Department, where Oates once worked, publishes annual reports on its officers’ uses of force. In the early 1970s, officers in the country’s biggest local police force shot and killed dozens of people each year. By the 2010s, the number was in the single digits in many years.
Nationwide data, however, are incomplete. Between 1976 and 2015, the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program recorded no more than 460 fatal shootings by police in any single year. The [Washington] Post’s database, launched in 2015, has found more than double that number every year. The FBI’s long-promised new program meant to fill the gaps is voluntary — and still incomplete.
— Mark Berman, Julie Tate, and Jennifer Jenkins in Police shootings continue daily, despite a pandemic, protests and pushes for reform