An analysis of data from the 50 largest U.S. police departments shows that police shoot Americans more than twice as often as previously known, VICE reports. Officers in these departments shoot black people at a higher rate and shoot unarmed people far more often than any data have shown. Recent reforms have already helped to bring down police shootings. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is moving away from these reforms, to the dismay of advocates, experts, and some local law enforcement officials. VICE looked at both fatal and nonfatal incidents and found that cops in the 50 largest local departments shot at least 3,631 people from 2010 through 2016, more than 500 people a year. On more than 700 other occasions, police fired at citizens and missed. Two-thirds of the people cops fired at survived.
Police shootings are rare, but experts say nonfatal shootings are just as important to understanding police violence as fatal encounters are. “We should know about how often it happens, if for no other reason than to simply understand the phenomenon,” said criminologist David Klinger, a former Los Angeles police officer now at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “How often is it that police are putting bullets in people’s bodies or trying to put bullets in people’s bodies?” After the 2014 killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and other high-profile cases where police shot and killed unarmed black men, the Washington Post and the Guardian kept a running tally of fatal incidents. Then-FBI Director James Comey started an initiative to collect statistics from police departments, but only 35 police departments of 18,000 nationally take part. Of the 50 largest local police departments, 47 responded to VICE with data sufficient for analysis. Many fought hard to keep the information secret, and some responded to requests only under threat of legal action.