More than half of all police killings in 2015 were wrongly classified as not having been the result of interactions with officers, a new Harvard study has found, The Guardian reports. The finding is the latest to show government databases seriously undercounting the number of people killed by police. “Right now the data quality is bad and unacceptable,” said lead researcher Justin Feldman. “To effectively address the problem of law enforcement-related deaths, the public needs better data about who is being killed, where, and under what circumstances.”
Feldman used data from the Guardian’s 2015 investigation into police killings, The Counted, and compared it with data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS). That dataset, which is kept by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), was found to have misclassified 55.2 percent of all police killings, with the errors occurring disproportionately in low-income jurisdictions. “As with any public health outcome or exposure, the only way to understand the magnitude of the problem, and whether it is getting better or worse, requires that data be uniformly, validly, and reliably obtained throughout the US,” said Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology at Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health and senior author of the study. “Our results show our country is falling short of accurately monitoring deaths due to law enforcement and work is needed to remedy this problem.” Researchers found the accuracy varied wildly by state, with just 17.6 percent misclassification in Washington, but a startling 100 percent in Oklahoma. [Oklahoma] had more than 30 people were killed by police there in 2015 and none of them were counted on death certificates,” Feldman said.