A study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington has found that from 1980 to 2019 more than 55 percent of 31,000 deaths attributed to police violence were assigned other causes in official federal death data, reports the Washington Post. Black men are killed by police at disproportionately high rates, and their deaths are mislabeled at higher rates than for any other race. The study compared decades of data from the National Vital Statistics System, which tracks births and deaths, to three databases that track police violence: Fatal Encounters, Mapping Police Violence, and the Guardian’s The Counted.
Researchers identified places where misclassification of deaths often occurred, noting that medical examiners or coroners — who must fill out the cause of death when there is suspicion of foul play, including police violence — can be embedded in or work for police departments. The study’s authors said forensic pathologists should be independent from law enforcement to protect from outside pressures. They also said the experts should be offered whistleblower protections. Researchers found Black people were 3.5 times more likely than white people to be killed by police, and Latinos and Native Americans also faced higher rates of fatal violence at the hands of law enforcement. About one in every thousand Black men in the United States is killed by police, the study found. Underreporting also most dramatically affected Black people, the study found, with nearly 60 percent of deaths misclassified.