Although no reliable official data currently exist on the number of law enforcement-related deaths each year in the U.S., counting these deaths can and should be done because the data constitute crucial public health information that could help prevent future deaths, according to a new study from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
The authors propose that all law enforcement-related deaths—including people killed by police as well as police killed in the line of duty—be treated not just as criminal data but as a “notifiable condition,” and that they be reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by public health and medical professionals and published on a weekly basis, as are a host of other conditions ranging from poisonings to pertussis to polio.
“It is time to bring a public health perspective to this longstanding and terrible problem, from a standpoint that emphasizes prevention and health equity, as opposed to treating these data as if they solely belong to the police and are a matter of criminal justice only,” said Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology and lead author of the study.
To support their case—and to highlight the excessive level of police brutality faced by African-Americans—the authors present novel data showing that, over the past 50 years, blacks have faced significantly greater risk than whites of being killed by police.