Despite a widespread impression that the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson marked the beginning of a significant increase in fatal killings of U.S. civilians by police officers, there is no proof of such a rise, says criminologist Bradley Campbell. The average number of such shootings around the nation has been steady at about 19 per week since at least May 2013–more than a year before the Ferguson case–through last year, the University of Louisville’s Campbell told the American Society of Criminology Wednesday. The society is holding its annual meeting in New Orleans this week. Campbell acknowledged that data on killings by police are incomplete, noting that compilations by the Washington Post and the Guardian have outpaced those by the federal government. The FBI has announced plans to upgrade the federal database of such incidents.
Campbell relied partly on the website Killedbypolice.net to compile comparative data going back well before the Brown case. Although the Washington Post has reported some short-term rises in police killings, Campbell said a longer look shows that the total fluctuates from month to month. He criticized journalists for asserting an upward trend based on data from very brief periods, calling it “simplistic” and “very misleading.” Campbell also said there is no evidence of a “Ferguson effect” on police shooting totals. That is the label put on a supposed trend that officers are taking more shots at people because criminals are now frequently defying law enforcement. Campbell also expressed doubts about an alternate hypothesis: that many police officers have become less aggressive after intense scrutiny of the Ferguson shooting and others.