Despite the unpredictable events that lead to fatal shootings, police nationwide have shot and killed almost the same number of people annually — nearly 1,000 — since the Washington Post began tracking them five years ago. The total is 1,010 so far in the last year, the Post reports. Probability theory may offer an explanation. It holds that the quantity of rare events in huge populations tends to remain stable absent major societal changes, such as a fundamental shift in police culture or extreme restrictions on gun ownership.
Although half of the people shot and killed by police are white, Black Americans are shot at a disproportionate rate. They account for less than 13 percent of the U.S. population but are killed by police at more than twice the rate of Whites. Hispanic Americans are also killed by police at a disproportionate rate. An overwhelming majority of people shot and killed by police are male, over 95 percent. More than half the victims are between 20 and 40 years old. Police shootings have taken place in every state and have occurred more frequently in cities where populations are concentrated. States with the highest rates of shootings are New Mexico, Alaska and Oklahoma. After Michael Brown was killed by a Ferguson, Mo., officer in 2014, the Post found that the FBI undercounted fatal police shootings by more than half. This is because reporting by police departments is voluntary and many departments fail to do so. The Post’s data rely primarily on news accounts, social media postings and police reports.