Nearly two times a week in the U.S., a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012, say the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI. USA Today reports that on average, there were 96 such incidents among at least 400 police killings each year that were reported to the FBI by local police. The numbers appear to show that the shooting of a black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., last Saturday was not an isolated event. The reports show that 18 percent of the blacks killed during those seven years were under 21, compared to 8.7 percent of whites. The victim in Ferguson was Michael Brown, 18. The officer who shot him was white.
While the racial analysis is striking, the database it’s based on is incomplete. The killings are self-reported by law enforcement and not all police departments participate, so the database undercounts the actual number of deaths. About 750 agencies contribute to the database, a small fraction of the 17,000 U.S. law enforcement agencies. University of South Carolina criminologist Geoff Alpert said the FBI’s limited database underscores a gaping hole in the nation’s understanding of how often local police take a life on U.S. streets and under what circumstances. ”There is no national database for this type of information, and that is so crazy,” said Alpert. “We’ve been trying for years, but nobody wanted to fund it and the (police) departments didn’t want it. They were concerned with their image and liability. They don’t want to bother with it.”