US law enforcement killed at least 1,176 people in 2022, making it the deadliest year on record for police violence since experts first started tracking the killings, a new data analysis reveals.A vigil for Breonna Taylor, who was shot dead by police in Louisville in March 2020. Photograph: Sam Upshaw/AP
‘It never stops’: killings by US police reach record high in 2022
Police across the country killed an average of more than three people a day, or nearly 100 people every month last year according to Mapping Police Violence. The non-profit research group maintains a database of reported deaths at the hands of law enforcement, including people fatally shot, beaten, restrained and Tasered.
The preliminary 2022 total – a possible undercount as more cases are catalogued – marks 31 additional fatalities than the year before. In 2021, police killed 1,145 people; 1,152 in 2020; 1,097 in 2019; 1,140 in 2018; and 1,089 in 2017. The earliest data goes back to 2013, when advocates began counting these fatal incidents. A database run by the Washington Post, which tracks fatal shootings by police, also shows 2022 as a year with record killings.
The data release comes two years after the murder of George Floyd sparked national uprisings calling for racial justice, police accountability and reductions in the funding and size of police forces. Despite the international attention and some local efforts to curb police brutality, there has been an intensifying backlash to criminal justice reform, and the overall number of killings has remained alarmingly high.
“It just never stops,” said Bianca Austin, aunt of Breonna Taylor, whose March 2020 killing in Kentucky sparked mass protests. “There was a movement and uproar across the globe, and we’re still having more killings? What are we doing wrong? It’s so disheartening.”
Behind the numbers: ‘Routine encounters’
While the numbers have crept up, the circumstances that precede the killings have remained consistent.
In 2022, 132 killings (11%) were cases in which no offense was alleged; 104 cases (9%) were mental health or welfare checks; 98 (8%) involved traffic violations; and 207 (18%) involved other allegations of nonviolent offenses. There were also 93 cases (8%) involving claims of a domestic disturbance and 128 (11%) where the person was allegedly seen with a weapon. Only 370 (31%) involved a potentially more serious situation, with an alleged violent crime.
“These are routine police encounters that escalate to a killing,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, a data scientist and policy analyst who founded Mapping Police Violence and provided 2022 data to the Guardian. “The reduction in the conversation around police violence does not mean that this issue is going away. What’s clear is that it’s continuing to get worse, and that it’s deeply systemic.”
What’s more, in 32% of cases last year, the person was fleeing before they were killed, generally running or driving off – cases in which experts say lethal force is unwarranted and also endangers the public. In June, Ohio police officers fired dozens of rounds at Jayland Walker, who was unarmed and fleeing; a month later, an officer in California exited an unmarked car and immediately fired at Robert Adams as he ran in the opposite direction.
The racial disparities have also persisted: Black people were 24% of those killed last year, while making up only 13% of the population. From 2013 to 2022, Black residents were three times more likely to be killed by US police than white people. The inequality is particularly severe in some cities, including Minneapolis where police have killed Black residents at a rate 28 times higher than white residents, and Chicago, where the rate was 25 times higher, Mapping Police Violence reported.
“Police’s ability to be judge, jury and executioner has been taken to another level. No matter how much we insist that it’s wrong, society allows it to take place,” said Jacob Blake Sr, whose son was shot by Kenosha police and left paralyzed in 2020. Blake Sr and Austin run a group called Families United that assists people whose loved ones have been killed by police.
Sinyangwe also found that there had been a notable uptick in killings by sheriff’s departments, which are generally county agencies run by an elected leader. In 2022, sheriffs were involved in 416 killings, higher than the share in 2013, which was 277 cases.
It’s unclear what’s driving that increase, though Sinyangwe said there had been growing partnerships between sheriffs and other agencies, with deputies executing search warrants or doing chases that can result in death. Sheriffs’ offices are also particularly politicized during elections, which could contribute to the problem, he said: “There are campaigns, in which there’s a race to the bottom to compete to be more ‘tough on crime’. And the result is more violent sheriff’s departments.”
‘There are solutions’
Despite the national increase in killings, there are some local signs of progress.
Sinyangwe noted a Denver program where clinicians and medics have responded to thousands of mental health calls instead of police, and have not had to call police for backup. Some cities have restricted traffic stops for minor violations. And California has decriminalized jaywalking and other minor infractions that advocates say have no relation to public safety but are used to profile certain communities.
“For each of these types of routine encounters, there are solutions and alternative responses that are already being piloted, that are already producing data showing they are dramatically more effective than police,” Sinyangwe said.
There are also some local jurisdictions and states that have seen reductions in lethal force. California, the most populous state, has experienced a 29% drop in killings since 2013, while Texas, with the second-largest population, has seen a 30% increase in that timeframe, according to Mapping Police Violence.
The consistent numbers year after year make clear that “broad systemic change” is necessary to prevent these killings, said Dr Elizabeth Jordie Davies, a Johns Hopkins postdoctoral fellow and expert on social movements. While there have been growing calls to defund police, leaders of both political parties have advocated the opposite – pushing for the expansion of law enforcement, she said.
“There’s a continual commitment to using violence to control people and manage problems in this country. And as we keep giving police more money and power, we’ll continue to see more police violence.”