A new report by UC Berkeley law Professor Franklin Zimring finds that the number of police officers killed in the line of duty has drastically declined over the past four decades while the number of people killed by police has also declined, but far less dramatically.
In a study titled "Trends in Killings of and by Police: A Preliminary Analysis" (embedded below) Zimring and doctoral candidate Brittany Arsiniega examined data dating back to 1976.
They found that between 1977 and 2012, police deaths dropped by 69 percent, while civilian deaths at the hands of police dropped by less than half that rate -- 31 percent.
According to the report, in 1977 there were 3.4 killings by police for every killing of an officer. For the five years between 2008 to 2012, that ratio has climbed to 7.8.
"Urban policing is a substantially less dangerous job in 2015 than in 1975," says the report. In 2012, the homicide rate for an on-duty officer was 15 percent less than for males in general.
However, the report also states that there is a lack of reliable data on police use of lethal force, calling the dearth of information a "scandal."
On KQED's Forum, Zimring said:
"The good news is the Department of Justice and the FBI keeps elegantly audited statistics on police officers killed in action and police officers injured.
"The bad new is that the records that we keep on the federal level of national patterns in police use of deadly force are not audited, essentially voluntary in terms of the police turn in this data when they want to, and are very uncarefully classified.
"As far as the Federal Bureau of Investigation is concerned, every killing by a police officer in uniform in the United States is presumptatively the justifiable killing of a felon."
Zimring also said:
“When you ask the police why fatal force was used, the conversation is almost always about risk to the police officer or another police officer or citizen. And about 80 percent of the time it is to the police officer who is shooting.
"Most of the time, police officers are not alone when this happens. And in fact, the number of situations in which the police officer may feel threatened but is not at risk of life-threatening injury, but still produce killings, is rather striking.
“About 100 times a year, the citizen will be brandishing a knife or having a blunt object or using personal force, but then when you look at killings of police, you find out that 91 percent of the time the gun is the instrument and that the only other major killer of police are automobiles.
"Knives kill 13 percent of all homicide victims but less than 1 percent of the police officers. So there are probably 100 killings of citizens a year where a less life-threatening response than shooting and keep shooting would both probably serve the safety of the officer and the citizen.”
You can listen to Zimring talk about his report as well as discuss police training, racial bias and why Richmond should be a national model here.