According to reporting in various independent news outlets during the first week of January 2023, American law enforcement personnel—primarily police and sheriff deputies—killed more people in 2022 than any preceding year on record. This reporting relies upon research by the Mapping Police Violence Project which chronicled 1,183 people killed by American law enforcement between January 1st and December 31st 2022. In its January 6th, 2023 coverage, Common Dreams noted that a 2021 study in the Lancet found about half of the killings by law enforcement go unreported, meaning the 1,183 figure could, in reality, be double.
Nevertheless, the scope of the problem as reported is large and increasing. Since 2013, when researchers at the Mapping Police Violence project began aggregating reports of law enforcement killings, the number has always been more than 1,000 per year. In 2017 it was 1,089; in 2018, 1,140; in 2019, 1,097; in 2020, 1,152; in 2021, 1,145. Between 2013 and 2022, 98.1 percent of law enforcement personnel involved in these killings went uncharged and only 0.3 percent of law enforcement personnel were convicted of any crime for their conduct. All this resulted in there being only twelve days in 2022 when law enforcement did not kill at least one person. Furthermore, killings by sheriffs are on the rise, making up 36 percent of all killings by law enforcement in 2022. In 2013, these types of killings made up 26 percent of the dataset.
While 31 percent of killings occurred after the victim allegedly committed a violent crime, in 32 percent of cases, the victim was fleeing, typically on foot or by vehicle. Common Dreams explained that legal experts say law enforcement is almost never justified in killing a person who is fleeing. Moreover, in 46 percent of killings no violent conduct by the victim was alleged. In 18 percent of killings a non-violent crime allegedly occurred, in 11 percent of killings law enforcement alleged the victim had a weapon but was not actively being violent with it, in 11 percent of killings no offense at all was alleged, 9 percent of killings involved a mental health or welfare check, 8 percent of killings involved a domestic dispute where the victim was not alleged of a violent crime, and 8 percent of killings involved a traffic stop.
As expected, Black Americans are overrepresented in this data, as compared to their share of the American population. Twenty-four percent of those killed by law enforcement in 2022 were Black, despite Black Americans making up 13 percent of the population. Between 2013 and 2022, Black Americans were three times more likely to be killed by law enforcement than White Americans, even as Black Americans killed by law enforcement were 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed, when compared to White Americans killed by law enforcement. In some cities, the degree of this discrepancy reached truly extraordinary levels. Black Americans in Minneapolis and Boston were 28 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement, when compared to White Americans. In Chicago that number was 25 times.
It is important to note that some jurisdictions are making progress—killings by law enforcement are down 29 percent in California, as compared to 2013. At the same time, other jurisdictions are going in the opposite direction, as in Texas where they are up 30 percent.
Corporate coverage of this story is sparse. Vice and Bloomberg both ran short articles about the topic, while the Washington Post has kept a paywalled tracker of killings by police since 2015—though, as of January 9th, 2023, the Post has not run a story about 2022 being a historic year for killings by law enforcement.
Sharon Zhang, “Police Killed Nearly 100 People a Month in 2022, Data Shows,” Truthout, January 6, 2023.
Sam Levin, “‘It Never Stops’: Killings by Us Police Reach Record High in 2022,” The Guardian, January 6, 2023.
Chris Saunders, “American Police Killed More People in 2022 Than They Have In Almost a Decade,” Hunger TV, January 4, 2023.
Julia Conley, “’What Are We Doing Wrong?’: US Police Killed Record Number of People in 2022,” Common Dreams, January 6, 2023.
Student Researcher: Annie Koruga (Ohlone College)
Faculty Evaluator: Robin Takahashi (Ohlone College)