The limited official data on the number of killings by police officers suggests that the total has crept upward only slowly, if at all, in recent years, says the New York Times. The FBI account of justifiable homicides by officers ranged from 397 to 426 deaths annually since 2009 before jumping to 461 in 2013, the latest reporting year. Federal experts have long acknowledged that the FBI number is too low, and a handful of more recent, unofficial reports — online databases compiled and fact-checked by volunteers — place the toll much higher, at about 1,100 deaths a year, or three a day. They do not suggest that the pace of police killings or the racial composition of victims as a group has changed significantly in the last two years.
Some criminologists believe police homicides are near their nadir. In New York City, 91 people were fatally shot by police officers in 1971 — and a record-low eight in 2013. In Los Angeles, officers used “categorical” force — gunfire, chokings and other violence that could lead to death — in 84 of nearly 149,000 arrests in 2012, down 17 percent in seven years. Those data suggest that any perception that higher numbers of unarmed African-Americans are being killed by the police in recent months is driven by citizens' postings of unsettling cellphone videos and pictures. “People are shocked by all these shootings,” said Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer now on the faculty of John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “But they've always been there.” It also means that lethal force by the police is a steady problem that is causing police departments across the country to debate whether they need to change procedures and training.