Researchers estimate that the US National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), the government system that collates all death certificates in the USA, failed to accurately classify and report more than 17,000 deaths as being caused by police violence during the 40-year study period.
“Recent high-profile police killings of Black people have drawn worldwide attention to this urgent public health crisis, but the magnitude of this problem can’t be fully understood without reliable data. Inaccurately reporting or misclassifying these deaths further obscures the larger issue of systemic racism that is embedded in many US institutions, including law enforcement. Currently, the same government responsible for this violence is also responsible for reporting on it. Open-sourced data is a more reliable and comprehensive resource to help inform policies that can prevent police violence and save lives,” says co-lead author Fablina Sharara of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), University of Washington School of Medicine, USA.
To examine the extent of under-reporting, researchers compared NVSS data to three non-governmental, open-source databases on police violence: Fatal Encounters, Mapping Police Violence, and The Counted. These databases collate information from news reports and public record requests. When compared, the researchers’ new estimates highlight the extent to which deaths from police violence are under-reported in the NVSS and the disproportionate effect of police violence on Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous people in the USA.
Across all races and states in the USA, researchers estimate that NVSS data failed to report 17,100 deaths from police violence out of 30,800 total deaths from 1980-2018 (the most recent years of available NVSS data), accounting for 55.5% of all deaths from police violence during this period. Using a predictive model, researchers also estimated the total number of deaths from police violence in the USA, for all races/ethnicities and all states for 2019, estimating an additional 1,190 deaths, bringing the total number of deaths from police violence from 1980-2019 to 32,000.