While recent killings by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City receive national attention, the fact is that from 1999 through 2011, American law enforcement officers killed 4,531 people, 96 percent by firearms and 96 percent of them men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.* The rate of police killings of African Americans has fallen by 70 percent over the last 40-50 years, but their risk remains much higher than that of Whites, Latinos, and Asians.
The five states or jurisdictions where a person is most likely to be killed by law enforcement are New Mexico, Nevada, District of Columbia, Oregon, and Maryland. California ranks sixth from the top. Alabama, North Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York are the safest (or, perhaps, the worst at reporting).
The major counties and urban jurisdictions with the highest rates of law enforcement killings are Wyandotte County (Kansas City); Denver County, Baltimore (city), Norfolk (city), and Anderson County, South Carolina; interestingly, Harris County (Houston) has the lowest reported rate. Fresno, Riverside, Kern, San Bernardino, and San Diego have the highest rates in California; Contra Costa has the lowest.
The racial group most likely to be killed by law enforcement is Native Americans, followed by African Americans, Latinos, Whites, and Asian Americans.
Native Americans, 0.8 percent of the population, comprise 1.9 percent of police killings. African Americans, 13 percent of the population, are victims in 26 percent of police shootings. Law enforcement kills African Americans at 2.8 times the rate of white non-Latinos, and 4.3 times the rate of Asians.
Latinos are victimized by police killings at a level 30 percent above average and 1.9 times the rate of White, non-Latinos.
One-fourth of those killed by law enforcement are under age 25, 54 percent are ages 25-44, and nearly one-fourth are ages 45 and older. Teenagers comprise only 7 percent of all police killings. The risk of an older teen age 15-19 being killed by police is about the same as for a 50 year-old; for a younger teen age 10-14, about the same as for an 80 year-old.
While statistics are always suspect over time, killings by law enforcement officers appear to be much lower today than in the past. In the late 1960s, nearly 100 young black men under age 25 were killed by law enforcement every year. Even as the black youth and young adult population doubled over the last 40 years, police shootings of young black men fell to around 35 per year in the 2000s, a rate decline of 79 percent. While younger African Americans were the victims in 1 in 4 killings by police in the 1968-74 period and 1 in 7 in 1975-84, today, that proportion is 1 in 10.
Similarly, police killings of African Americans 25 and older have declined by 61 percent since the late 1960s. Still, the rates for younger African Americans remain 4.5 times higher, and for older African Americans 1.7 times higher, than for other races and ages.
Center for Juvenile and Criminal Justice
*These are called “legal interventions,” defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as “injuries inflicted by the police or other law-enforcing agents . . . in the course of arresting or attempting to arrest lawbreakers, suppressing disturbances, maintaining order, and other legal action.