NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Police in the United States shoot and kill people at higher rates than almost any other country. They also do this while dealing with the most diverse, distressed, and armed population in the world, a new report reveals.
Rutgers University researchers say fatal police shootings in the U.S. are five times higher than similarly developed nations like France and 22 times higher than countries like Australia. The countries with high overall gun homicide rates were intrinsically tied to places with high police violence. The study authors analyzed 18 different countries and say U.S. law enforcement have an “exceptionally lethal” record, particularly when compared to crime-ridden countries like Chile and Spain, who still manage to avoid high fatal police violence rates.
The U.S. joins Venezuela, Brazil, Canada, and Belgium as developed countries with the highest rates of fatal police violence. While Australia also tops that list, they have a very low rate of firearm deaths. The U.S. also exemplifies how low rates of police training directly correlate to fatal police violence outcomes, according to the study.
Does U.S. history play a role in violence today?
Researchers say almost all of the countries with the highest rates of fatal police violence had recent histories of authoritarian rule or roots in colonial domination, ethnic cleansing, or slavery. The four countries atop the list – Venezuela, Canada, Australia, and the United States – all practiced slavery until at least the second half of the 19th century.
“The institution of slavery was so massive in Brazil and the United States that the wounds that it inflicted, the benefits it conferred and the racial hierarchy and ideology that sustained it remained long after abolition and have indelibly shaped the contemporary social and institutional order,” says Rutgers associate professor of sociology, Paul Hirschfield, who was lead author of the study and directs the school’s Criminal Justice Program, in a university release.
The U.S. fatal police shooting rate in 2019 was 3.1 per million, compared to France’s 0.14 per million.
Countries with lengthier amounts of police training did record lower rates of fatal police violence. Canada, however, which provides at least 24 weeks of training to its city and national police, still maintained a relatively high fatal police violence rate.
Who does this trend affect the most?
An in-depth 2022 analysis from the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute shows that Black Americans make up 34 percent of unarmed civilians who are shot and killed by police. However, out of the 22 annual fatal police shootings, officials labeled several shootings of unarmed Black men as “justified.” Study authors did not factor in the percentage of civilians with firearms.
The analysis also highlights several racial or ethnic nuances which are routinely avoided by larger studies. Asians die in police incidents at lower overall rates than whites, while Native Americans die at elevated rates despite making up a very small part of the population. Hispanic being considered an ethnicity rather than a race, has skewed much of that data, the institute notes.
This full study on police violence rates is published in the Annual Review of Criminology.