Radley Balko is probably the best mainstream writer on the subject of police misconduct there is. According to Balko’s estimation (as well as my own), there are probably several hundred killings of civilians by police every year in the US that could not reasonably be considered “justified” in the sense of being necessary to protect someone from imminent harm. So, essentially, 300-400 acts of murder or manslaughter are being carried out by police on an annual basis.
That may not sound like a lot in a nation of 327 million people with 15-20 thousand homicides per year. But if the state were executing 300 people a year in the electric chair who were later found to be innocent, even most conservative “law and order” types would probably think that was a big deal. In addition, “murder by cop” is only the tip of the iceberg. There are also many, many more cases of non-lethal assault by cop, rape by cop, armed robbery by cop, theft by cop, vandalism by cop, pet-killing by cop, perjury by cop, extortion by cop, planting of evidence by cop, injuries and deaths resulting from reckless driving by cop, etc.
There’s been much talk this week about a new study from Harvard economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. on racial bias in police shootings. Much of the coverage has focused on the study’s surprising-to-some conclusion that racial bias doesn’t factor into police use of lethal force, at least in the city of Houston and at least once the officer has stopped a civilian. There have also been some interesting critiques from (among others) Rajiv Sethi, Ezekiel Kweku and Dara Lind. But the most pertinent flaw in the study (which Fryer has tried to explain, I think unsatisfactorily) is the same flaw in any study that relies on police reports: It relies on police reports.