Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How to Reduce the Use of Deadly Force by American Police Forces

Updated April 2018

The seemingly endless coverage of deadly police - civilian confrontations in the United States is telling us that something is broken in law enforcement.  According to "The Counted", in 2016, 1093 people in the United States have been killed by police.  By way of comparison, a total of 1146 people were killed by American police in 2015 with 306 being black, 581 being white and 195 being Hispanic/Latino.  Is there some way that this number could be reduced?  Thanks to the Use of Force Project and Campaign Zero , there are some polices that could be adopted by police forces across America that are likely to at least partially solve the problem of police-related civilian deaths along with reducing retributive violence toward police.

As background, here is a graphic showing the rates of killings (police killings per 1 million population) by America's largest police forces between January 1, 2015 and July 15, 2016:

Interestingly, of the 100 largest urban areas in the study, only nine had police departments that didn't kill anyone in 2015 or so far in 2016.

The Campaign Zero Planning Team reviewed the use of deadly force policies of 91 of America's 100 largest police departments to see if they had any meaningful protections against police violence and what percentage of police forces had each policy in place.  These policies include:

1.) Requiring de-escalation - 31 of the departments required that police officers de-escalate situations where possible prior to using deadly force.

2.) A use of force continuum - Here is an example of a use of force continuum which is required by 77 of the departments:

3.) A ban on chokeholds and strangleholds - 21 of the departments have an explicit ban on chokeholds and strangleholds and limit their use to situations where deadly force is authorized.

4.) Requiring a warning before using deadly force - 56 of the departments required the officer to give a verbal warning where possible 

5.) A restriction on firing at moving vehicles - 19 of the departments prohibit officers from shooting at moving vehicles unless that vehicle is posing a deadly threat (i.e. the occupants are shooting at bystanders).

6.) Requiring that all other means be exhausted before shooting - 31 of the departments required officers to exhaust all other reasonable options before using deadly force.

7.) A duty to intervene when deadly force is being misused by another officer - 30 of the departments required that officers intervene to stop another officer from using excessive force.

8.) Requiring comprehensive reporting - 15 of the departments required officers to report all uses of force including threatening a civilian with a firearm.

On average, of the 91 departments reviewed, only three out of the eight listed policies were adopted with no police departments adopting all eight.

How important are these policies?  Here is a graphic showing how the restricted use of force policies are associated with a drop in the number of civilian killings by police forces:

Basically, for each of the eight policies, police departments that had implemented the policies saw a drop in the number of civilians killed than police departments that had not adopted the policies.  Each additional use of force policy was associated with a 15 percent drop in killings.  Since, as I noted above, the average police department has adopted three out of the eight policies, implementing all eight policies would result in a very significant 54 percent drop in killings on average.  Here is a graphic that shows how the rate  of civilian killings drops as more policies are adopted:

With either zero or one policy, the civilian death rate at the hands of police averages just over 12 per million population.  With four or more policies adopted, the civilian death rate drops to just under 8 per million population which is still high but a significant drop from the death rate in non-adoptive jurisdictions. 

While one might think that the adoption of more rigid police use of force policies would result in a rising assault against and death rate for police, in fact that is not the case.  Where there are zero or one of the aforementioned policies in place, the assault rate on officers is 18 per 100 officers; this drops to less than 10 per 100 officers when 4 or more policies are in place.  Where there are zero or one of the aforementioned policies in place, the death rate of officers is just under .12 per 1000 officers; this drops to just over 0.02 per 1000 officers when 4 or more policies are in place.

Obviously, the current law enforcement situation in America's large and small urban areas is not working.   Universal adoption of the eight use of deadly force policies recommended by the Campaign Zero Planning Team would go a long way to improving the rapidly deteriorating relationship between the taxpaying public and their police departments in America's largest cities.


  1. I agree with some, but not all, of the comments above. But the statistics would and could be greatly reduced if civilians OBEYED OFFICER COMMANDS. Look at the situation in South Carolina (Slager/Scott). ULTIMATELY, the officer shot the man in the back and I do not agree with that shooting at all. But prior, the civilian RAN from a traffic stop. Then they struggled, a taser was deployed....the civilian ran again. I get the feeling that if he never ran from the vehicle, he would be alive today. Same for the verdict today....obey office commands and you greatly reduce the risk of dying. I would wager the last 100 cases of officers shooting civilians, verbal commands were ignored. I don't seem to recall any stories about an officer arriving on scene, not saying a word and shooting someone unarmed.