Thursday, January 07, 2016

Researchers call upon CDC to collect police violence data

On the same day last month that the FBI announced it would be expanding its system for tracking fatal police shootings, health researchers at Harvard University published an article calling on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make law-enforcement related deaths a “notifiable condition.” The article, “Police Killings and Police Deaths are Public Health Data and Can Be Counted” argues that “since these events involve mortality and affect the well-being of the families and communities of the deceased” and data collection has been unreliable and insufficient “in part because of the long-standing and well-documented resistance of police departments to making these data public,” law-enforcement related deaths should be considered public health data and reported by public health departments.

Using the data compiled by the Guardian’s The Counted, the authors point out that as of September 19, 2015, 842 people were killed by law enforcement in 2015, exceeding “[corresponding] national totals for several diseases of considerable concern: measles (188 cases), malaria (786) and mumps (436 cases) and … on par with the national number of cases of Hepatitis A (890 cases).” The researchers compared the threat of epidemic outbreaks from these diseases to the health threats posed by police violence and resulting civil unrest. They also identified additional harm from law-enforcement violence: “the public health harms that arise from the damage rendered to the body politic itself. ... Combine excess police violence with inadequate prosecution of such violence, and the ties that bind citizens and their democratically elected governments become deeply frayed, with vicious cycles of distrust and violence fueling dysfunctional policing and dysfunctional governance generally.” The researchers pointed to disparities in risk of death by police violence among black and white men, ages 15 to 34 – with the risk to black men being 3.1 times higher than to white men – as further proof of the public-health need for routine data on law-enforcement related deaths.

I like this idea.  One reason being because it moves the conversation about police violence out of the heated and falsely dichotomous arguments about “black lives matter” vs. “all lives matter” and “pro-police” vs. “anti-police.” Framing the conversation around a public health discussion forces us to recognize certain ideas we should all be able to agree on: we should minimize to any extent possible the risks of harm to citizens at the hands of police; we should be deeply concerned about racial disparities in law enforcement-related deaths; and we need reliable data to craft evidence-based solutions to identified problems. These ideas should be uncontroversial, and a public health lens may help move us toward a more constructive conversation.

On a practical point, and perhaps most significantly, the proposal recognizes the problems inherent in relying on law enforcement self-reporting, which in large part has been the weakness of government data collection, from the BJS program to our own police-involved shooting reports in Texas. By shifting collection from law enforcement to public health departments, the proposal offers a novel solution to this nagging problem. And creating a government-led solution to the data collection issue – at this point, we are relying mostly on media watchdogs for accurate information – could help repair the harm done by the “vicious cycles of distrust and violence fueling … dysfunctional governance generally.”


Anonymous said...

Waco update:

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Given the level of detail at which employment related deaths are reported, I have never understood why this category of deaths was a black hole for data until VERY recently with the media databases' and Texas' new reporting. There's a bit of a "we don't want to know" vibe surrounding this particular information gap.

JJ said...

So officer-involved shootings are to be treated as a disease? Sounds legit. Next up, the governor will appoint a bovine task force to secure our borders under the auspices of the gaming commission. These operations will commence in every southern county to coincide with local rodeo shows and any big lottery drawings at the discretion of the Agricultural Commisioner and his 4th cousin.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not disease, JJ, public health, just like on the jobs deaths and traffic fatalities are public health data.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Not disease, JJ, public health, just like on the jobs deaths and traffic fatalities are public health data.