On the heels of the Tamir Rice verdict, the research from Harvard seems to be very telling as the world watches young men and women gunned down in the streets daily – not only by each other, but at the hands of police officers all over the country.
Researchers from Harvard are urging US Public Health agencies to consider the number of police killings we have experienced in the US within the past years as a Public Health Issue. Inspired by the #BlackLivesMatter movement, Harvard scientists put together this proposal based on the public pressure from the Black Lives movement and are urging that public health agencies keep an official tally on the number of people being killed by police.
THE GOAL: Making police killings a condition requires Police precincts to report all killings to the Public Health Department, which would in turn help in reporting deaths in real time. Currently, the U.S. cannot depend on police departments to provide accurate data on police killings. Surprisingly there are no official numbers, right now we are relying on a UK newspaper, which keeps an accurate count of the number of people killed in the U.S., according to the Guardian, unofficial numbers exist and estimate that 1058 Americans were killed by police in 2015 according to the Guardian (UK); and African Americans at a rate twice as much as the white population.
Here are the summary points from Harvard:
- During the past year, the United States has experienced major controversies—and civil unrest—regarding the endemic problem of police violence and police deaths.
- Although deaths of police officers are well documented, no reliable official US data exist on the number of persons killed by the police, in part because of long-standing and well-documented resistance of police departments to making these data public.
- These deaths, however, are countable, as evidenced by “The Counted,” which revealed that over 500 people in the US had been killed by the police between January 1 and June 9, 2015, twice what would be expected based on estimates from the US Federal Bureau of Intelligence (FBI).
- Law-enforcement–related deaths, of both persons killed by law enforcement agents and also law enforcement agents killed in the line of duty, are a public health concern, not solely a criminal justice concern, since these events involve mortality and affect the well-being of the families and communities of the deceased; therefore, law-enforcement–related deaths are public health data, not solely criminal justice data.
- We propose that law-enforcement–related deaths be treated as a notifiable condition, which would allow public health departments to report these data in real-time, at the local as well as national level, thereby providing data needed to understand and prevent the problem.
Police departments are not keen on the proposal from Harvard and according to Bill Johnson, the director of the National Association of Police Organizations, “the best way to reduce the number of deaths by police is to follow the instructions of the officer.” These types of cynical/arrogant responses are an important reason why there needs to be a public health approach and addresses the need for more credible tracking.