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Lethal Police Violence

Lethal Police Violence

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Published by LynnKWalsh
David Klinger, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri. Klinger has been researching and teaching about crime in the St. Louis area for 15 years. He said there is not a way to determine how many people are shot by police each year in the United States.
David Klinger, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Missouri. Klinger has been researching and teaching about crime in the St. Louis area for 15 years. He said there is not a way to determine how many people are shot by police each year in the United States.

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Published by: LynnKWalsh on Aug 13, 2014
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 http://hsx.sagepub.com/content/16/1/78The online version of this article can be found at: DOI: 10.1177/1088767911430861 2012 16: 78 originally published online 13 December 2011
Homicide Studies 
David A. Klinger
Research NoteOn the Problems and Promise of Research on Lethal Police Violence : A
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Homicide Studies 
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at UNIV OF MISSOURI ST LOUIS on May 5, 2013hsx.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
Homicide Studies16(1) 78  –96© 2012 SAGE PublicationsReprints and permission: sagepub.com/journalsPermissions.navDOI: 10.1177/1088767911430861http://hsx.sagepub.com
430861
HSX
 
16
 
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10.1177/1088767911430861KlingerHomicideStudies
1
University of Missouri–St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, USA
Corresponding Author:
David A. Klinger, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Missouri–St. Louis, One University Boulevard, 324 Lucas Hall, St. Louis, MO 63121-4499, USA Email: klingerd@umsl.edu
On the Problems and Promise of Research on Lethal Police Violence: A Research Note
David A. Klinger 
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Abstract
We presently have little information about how frequently police officers shoot citizens or are involved in any sort of interaction in which citizens die. Despite this, however, researchers persist in using the limited data available on fatal police violence in various sorts of analyses. The current article outlines the liabilities in available counts of fatal police action, describes some of the problems posed by using such data, discusses why counting citizens killed by police bullets is not a sound way to measure deadly force, and offers some ideas for improving measurement of the use of deadly force and other police actions that lead to the death of citizens.
Keywords
comparative, historical, justifiable homicide, policing, public policy
That law enforcement officers carry firearms with the express legal authority to use them in the course of their duties gives the police a power over life and death that is unique in the American criminal justice system (Bittner, 1970; Fyfe, 1982; Geller & Scott, 1992). Recognizing this, the National Research Council’s
Committee to Review  Research on Police Policy and Practices
 recently stated that “[t]here is no more important piece of data regarding police behavior than that on the exercise of lethal force” (Skogan & Frydl, 2004, p. 157). Despite this, we know next to nothing about how often American police officers exercise their prerogative to use deadly force.
Research Note
 at UNIV OF MISSOURI ST LOUIS on May 5, 2013hsx.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
Klinger
79
Studies from previous decades provided detailed information about shooting pat-terns in
individual agencies
 (e.g., Fyfe’s 1978 examination of New York City Police firearms discharges and Geller and Karales’ (1982) similar work regarding the Chicago Police Department). Except for work of this sort, which extracts internal data kept by individual law enforcement agencies, we have no sound, empirically grounded, idea of how many people across the nation are shot at by police officers, how many are struck  by police bullets, or how many of the individuals who are shot die from the wounds they suffer. While some national data sources on
deaths
 at the hands of the police do exist, the counts they contain are notoriously inaccurate (Fyfe, 2002; Klinger, 2008; Loftin, Wiersema, McDowall, & Dobrin, 2003; Sherman & Langworthy, 1979; and  below) and—by definition—provide absolutely no information about police firearm discharges that do not cause fatal injury.Because we do not have sound national data on police shootings we are not able to answer simple empirical questions such as, “How often do American police officers discharge their firearms at citizens?” “How many citizens are struck by bullets fired by American police officers each year?” And, “How many citizens are killed by police  bullets in the United States each year?” It also means that we cannot track how police use of deadly force varies at the national level from year-to-year (or any other tempo-ral unit), comprehensively compare its use between jurisdictions (or any other spatial aggregate) across the nation, or seek to empirically identify the correlates and determi-nants of police shootings across time and space in the United States.Despite the fact that sound national data do not exist, researchers have persisted in using “official” counts of fatalities at the hands of the police as a measure of deadly force by American police officers, including in studies that seek to explain variability in deadly force usage across time and space (e.g., Jacobs & Britt, 1979; Jacobs & O’Brien, 1998; Smith, 2003; 2004; Sorensen, Marquart, & Brock, 1993).
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 This later tradition of research is especially troubling because it produces findings about the correlates of deadly police violence that are of dubious validity. The remainder of this article is devoted to outlining the liabilities of “official” death counts as indicators of deadly force and other deadly police action across the United States, describing and demonstrating the problems inherent in using
any
 count of citizens killed by the police to measure deadly force usage, and presenting some ideas about how to develop a data collection program that will provide valid and reliable nationwide information about  police firearm usage and police-involved deaths of citizens in the United States.
“Official” Data on Deadly Police Action
There exist three sources of data with national reach that have some relevance to the construct “police use of deadly force.” The first data source is the National Center for Health Statistics’ (NCHS) National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), which keeps records on “deaths by legal intervention,” a mortality category that is intended to capture homicidal deaths caused by law enforcement personnel. Academics have long noted the weakness of the NVSS “deaths by legal intervention” data as an
at UNIV OF MISSOURI ST LOUIS on May 5, 2013hsx.sagepub.comDownloaded from 

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