About 1,200 people were killed by police officers in the U.S. in the 12 months that ended in May, according to a federal report released Thursday. That number is much larger than government counts of police killings for earlier years — and is much more in line with private estimates.
Criminal justice researchers have long argued that official counts of police killings, which rely on voluntary reports from local police departments, are woefully incomplete. Over the past decade, about half a dozen efforts by activists, volunteers and media organizations have sprung up in response to widespread outrage about high-profile killings by police officers to try to fill the breach using information from media reports and other sources. Their annual death toll estimates since 2013 have generally ranged from 1,100 to 1,400, more than twice as high as the counts from official government sources.
Thursday’s report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics is effectively an acknowledgment that the amateurs were right. It used media reports to fill in the gaps in data provided by law-enforcement agencies and reached a figure similar to those from the private groups.1