Improving the estimate of US police killings

Patrick Ball and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group applied the same statistical rigor that he uses in estimating the scale of atrocities and genocides for Truth and Reconciliation panels in countries like Syria and Guatemala to the problem of estimating killing by US cops, and came up with horrific conclusions.

Ball was responding to a set of new estimates of death-by-cop produced by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the HRDAG provided a critique of the BJS's methods to show that they were significantly undercounting the bodies.

Michael Planty, chief of victimization stats for the BJS, said the agency is grappling with how to release victims' information without violating their families' privacy, along with other legal and logistical issues. "These are the issues we're discussing with our data stewards and general counsel," Planty said. "It may be that we can and will release identities, but this is something we're working through and haven't done in the past." FBI spokesman Stephen G. Fischer, meanwhile, said that it doesn't collect "personally identifiable information."

Ball said he thinks the real reason agencies don't release the data is to protect police officers and departments. "The only privacy protected here, I think, is going to be that of the police officers," he said.

Planty said protecting police privacy is "not necessarily the primary" concern for his agency. Some localities, he pointed out, have laws that prevent disclosure of the identity of an officer involved in a killing. The bigger concern, he said, is that police departments might be less likely to submit reports of killings by their officers "if there is a chance of disclosure."

Even before the report came out, the BJS had suspended its police killings count and begun work to improve it. Now the agency knows the "best case scenario," in the words of the report, is that it was missing half of deaths.

A New Estimate Of Killings By Police Is Way Higher — And Still Too Low [Carl Bialik/538]

(Thanks, Cindy!)

(Image: MarcaDeMorto, gff1312, CC-BY-SA)