Police officers across the United States are on pace to fatally shoot 1,000 people in 2017, making it the third year in a row. During the first half of this year a total of 492 have already died at the hands of law enforcement, according to the Washington Post.
The numbers from 2017 are near identical to last year's, however the number of unarmed people killed by police has dipped slightly so far this year. "These numbers show us that officer-involved shootings are constant over time,” Geoffrey Alpert, a criminologist at the University of South Carolina who has studied police use of force, told the Post. "Some places go up, some go down, but it’s averaging out. This is our society in the 21st century."
White males armed with firearms or other weapons are killed most frequently by police officers, which is consistent with the two previous years the Post has been collecting the data. "One in four people killed this year were mentally ill. And police have continued to shoot and kill a disproportionately large number of black males, who account for nearly a quarter of the deaths, yet are only 6 percent of the nation’s population," the Post reported.
Shootings of unarmed people has declined slightly this year which is consistent with the previous two years. However unarmed black males still make up an overwhelming proportion of those killed without a weapon, despite making up only 6 percent of the population, according to the Post. During the first six months of last year black males made up 32 percent of all unarmed killings, compared to 26 percent this year.
One in four people killed in the first six months of 2017 were mentally ill. "We know we can make a difference in cases where the person is mentally ill and in cases where someone is not armed with a gun," Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, told the Post.
"There is no comprehensive government data source that tracks fatal shootings by police officers. The Post database relies on local news coverage, public records and social-media reports to identify fatal shootings by police," The Post reported.
While the FBI also gathers data on police shootings the program is based on voluntary reports from police agencies and only covers scenarios where officers have fatally shot people committing felonies. On Saturday the FBI announced it would begin to collect a wider range of data from roughly 50 local and federal law enforcement agencies, according to the Post.
Studying and collecting data on the frequency and severity of police force is vital to understanding how better solutions can be implemented to prevent such incidents.
"What we really need to know is how many times police shoot people, not just how many of those people die, David A. Klinger, a criminal justice professor at the University of Missouri in St. Louis who studies police use of force, told the Post.