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According to FBI data, incidents like the one that played out in Ferguson, Mo. last week, in which an unarmed black teen was gunned down by a police officer, are far more common than we may think.

The data shows that between 2005 and 2012, white police officers killed a black person nearly twice a week, every week. Of the 400 accounts of “justifiable homicide” by police officers each year, 96 of them involved a white officer and a black person, proving that the shooting of 18-year-old Mike Brown was not an isolated incident, but rather a regular occurrence.

Reports show that 18 percent of the black people killed during that seven-year period were under the age of 21, as compared to just 8.7 percent of whites.

As shocking as these statistics may be, numerous studies have found that the database this information is based on is flawed. All incidents included in these stats are self reported by law enforcement agencies, a large number of whom don’t participate. The official numbers released in this report undercount the actual number of deaths that occurred during this seven-year period and conflict with independent statistics on the number of fatalities committed at the hands of law enforcement officials.

USA Today reports:

“About 750 agencies contribute to the database, a fraction of the 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States.

University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert, who has long studied police use of deadly force, said the FBI’s limited database underscores a gaping hole in the nation’s understanding of how often local police take a life on America’s streets – and under what circumstances.”

Alpert claims the issue with the system is that many police departments don’t believe their use of force was excessive, so they don’t report certain incidents.

“I’ve looked a record in hundreds of departments,” he said. “and it’s very rare that you find someone saying, ‘Oh, gosh, we used excessive force.’ In 98.9% of the cases, they are stamped as justified and sent along.”

Regardless, this date remains the most complete nationwide account of people being killed by police nationwide.

The International Association of Chiefs of Police, America’s biggest group of police officials, maintains that the use of police force is very rare despite the data suggesting otherwise. The IACP claims less than 2 percent of the 40 million people who have had contact with authorities have reported the use of force or being threatened with the use of force, data collected by the Bureau of Justices in 2008.

“In large part, the public perception of police use of force is framed and influence by the media depictions which present unrealistic and often outlandish representations of law enforcement and the policing profession,” the group said in 2012.

More recently, the IACP released a statement saying the organization “remains committed to studying police use of force issues.”

Samuel Walker, a criminologist at the University of Nebraska, has spoken out about the lack of national tracking of these incidents. Walker called it a “major failure” of our criminal justice system.

Aside from providing the public with a more accurate scope of just how often these kinds of cases occur, Walker says a national repository of police deadly force would provide the public with a clear scope of where their local law enforcement agency stands on the issue.

“The reason there isn’t one is because the information is often embarrassing for police departments,” Walker said.

“People should be able to log into a database and identify where their own department stands on this,” he said, before adding that the information the FBI has detailing the number of officers killed or assaulted in the line of duty is much more detailed and accurate.


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