FBI Statistics on Police Homicides Are Way Off

Apparently, the FBI statistics on police homicides, that is, the number of people killed by police, are way, way off:

The first-ever attempt by US record-keepers to estimate the number of uncounted “law enforcement homicides” exposed previous official tallies as capturing less than half of the real picture. The new estimate – an average of 928 people killed by police annually over eight recent years, compared to 383 in published FBI data – amounted to a more glaring admission than ever before of the government’s failure to track how many people police kill.

The revelation called into particular question the FBI practice of publishing annual totals of “justifiable homicides by law enforcement” – tallies that are widely cited in the media and elsewhere as the most accurate official count of police homicides.

So why such a discrepancy? Well, here is one reason: the FBIs annual totals don’t include the state of Florida. Here’s a much bigger reason: the FBI gets its information from police departments, and reporting police homicides is apparently voluntary. Which means the FBI gets only the information that police departments feel like releasing:

Academics and specialists have long been aware of flaws in the FBI numbers, which are based on voluntary submissions by local law enforcement agencies of paperwork known as supplementary homicide reports. No law requires local agencies to fill out the reports, and some agencies do not, especially not for officer-involved homicides, according to experts who have studied the issue.

So yeah. You would think the FBI would know better. But the fact is that the FBI and local law enforcement have a huge incentive to undercount police homicide numbers. Because when you actually look at the real numbers, the picture on police brutality becomes even more enraging. Do you realize that if the police are actually killing 928 people annually, that’s almost three people a day. That’s outrageous. In the most specific and literal sense of the word.