65

According to Granta - Violence in Blue,

One-third of all Americans killed by strangers are killed by police.

Is this true?

  • 37
    Two factors I see immediately that will make this difficult to really pin down: The relationship between murder victims and offenders was unknown in 49.5 percent of murder and nonnegligent manslaughter incidents, so "all Americans killed by strangers" is a base with a huge uncertainty. And then, "killed by police" would include justified incidents as well as unjustified ones... – DevSolar Jun 3 at 10:02
  • 8
    The title is misleading: a third of a quarter is one twelfth. The link explains how the statistic was derived, and why it is an educated guess, answering the question. To dispute it, someone would have to make another computation which would also have to be based on incomplete or overlapping information. Actually although the statistic looks bad – implying the police must be bad – I would prefer that more people are lawfully killed by police than by non-police. In fact, I don't want any people to be killed by non-police. So my controversial take is that the statistic is not high enough. – Weather Vane Jun 3 at 11:14
  • 12
    @WeatherVane: Well, I don't want any people killed by police either... – DevSolar Jun 3 at 11:40
  • 4
    @DevSolar both would be ideal. I was just playing the devil's advocate. Statistics can be used to prove or stir anything, such as "just look at how bad the police are." – Weather Vane Jun 3 at 11:49
  • 3
    @gnasher729 Yes it would. – Anush Jun 4 at 13:04
106

To a reasonable approximation this appears to be true, although one quarter may be a more accurate figure

The total number of murders in the US for 2018 is 16,214, according to Statista, and this roughly agrees with data from other sources.

The US Department of Justice says that approximately 80% of murder victims know their killers, meaning that around 3242 people were killed by strangers.

Recent statistics for police killings are harder to come by, but various sources indicate a rate of around 1100 for the years 2015 and 2016, and no indication that this would have changed significantly in 2018. Statista gives 967 people shot to death by police in 2018, but excludes those killed in other ways (George Floyd would not be included).

Taking 1100 police killings and 3242 people murdered by strangers, then we can conclude that the number of people killed by the police is about one third of the number of people murdered by strangers.

There is a statistical wrinkle in that the people killed by the police were (virtually all) not considered murder, and so do not appear in the figures for murder. A better calculation would be to add the number of stranger murders to the number of police killings, giving us 4342, of which one quarter were killed by police.

Note that the figures of police killings includes those where the killing was justified.

| improve this answer | |
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jamiec Jun 5 at 10:06
  • 2
    I think there is a flaw in your math, you are undercounting the number of people killed by strangers. Most police shootings are not considered murders, they are usually in self defense or otherwise required by the job. As such the majority of police shootings do not appear as murders in your first list. The total number of people killed by strangers would thus be all the murders by strangers Plus most of the police shootings (since the majority of them were not murders). Plus a number of other stranger killings that weren't technically murders (ie self defense) – dsollen Jun 5 at 18:26
  • 7
    This was previously mentioned in the comments. I address it specifically in the paragraph starting "There is a statistical wrinkle..." – DJClayworth Jun 5 at 19:29
  • Perhaps you can clarify your last sentence: are you claiming every single person killed by police is justified, or that this is an aspect of the review process where the police claim the killing is justified. – BurnsBA Jun 6 at 14:30
  • Neither. I am saying that some of the cases of police killing includes where the killing was justified - for example where a person might have been in the process of killing someone and is shot to prevent that. – DJClayworth Jun 6 at 22:14
8

this appears to be false as written. police only kill about 1k people per year, whereas car crashes kill somewhere around 30k people a year in the usa. 53% of car crashes involve more than 1 vehicle. if we assume that half of the car crashes victims in those are "strangers" to the driver who caused the crash. that would put the ratio around 8:1 without even counting other causes of death (e.g. crime). if we were to rephrase the claim as "one third of people who are shot to death by strangers are shot to death by the police", then that might be close to the truth.

https://www.iihs.org/topics/fatality-statistics/detail/state-by-state https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/series/counted-us-police-killings

| improve this answer | |
  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Jamiec Jun 8 at 9:07

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .