Law enforcement-related deaths discussed in reddit ‘AMA’

Why should law enforcement-related deaths be treated as a public health issue? Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology, discussed that topic during a reddit “AMA” (Ask Me Anything) on Thursday, December 17.

In a recent paper, Krieger and her research team proposed that all law enforcement-related deaths—including people killed by police as well as police killed in the line of duty—be treated not just as criminal data but as a “notifiable condition,” and that they be reported to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) by public health and medical professionals and published on a weekly basis, as are a host of other conditions ranging from poisonings to pertussis to polio.

Here are some highlights from Krieger’s AMA:

What would the practical implications of such an approach, and of your research, be? In an ideal world, how should public health policies effectively incorporate your research?

Public health is only one of the many fields and sectors of government that need to be involved in the work required to reduce risk of death due to legal intervention and to promote equity, including health equity, so that all may truly thrive. That said, public health does have a unique role with regard to monitoring the extent to which adverse or beneficial health risks exist within and across communities.

The first step here is have public health step up and play an active role in real-time monitoring the count and rates of deaths due to legal intervention, so that communities can, in real-time, have public official data on these counts and rates.

For examples of newly released reports that are seeking to use these kinds of data to work with both communities and law enforcement agencies to reduce these rates, see:

How would this differ from data that is already reported through various databases, such as the National Violent Death Reporting System or National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund?

Your question points to the difference between public health monitoring systems that are intended to provide real-time data (e.g., for notifiable conditions) versus annual or periodic data (with some lag time for producing the data reports within states and also sending them to CDC for compilation for national reports).

The first data set you refer to, WISQARS/NVDRS (National Violent Death Reporting System), which is hosted through the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, does not provide real-time data on deaths due to legal intervention and presently covers only 32 states.

The second data set you refer to, NLEOFM (National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund), does present real-time data, but only on deaths of law enforcement officers, and it is a private organization, not a government agency.

Neither of these data sources are capable of providing real-time data on all deaths due to legal intervention in the United States.

Will the data be broken down geographically and if so, what correlations do you expect to find?

Data already indicate there is substantial geographic variation in rates of deaths due to legal intervention, and specifically in rates of deaths of persons killed by the police. To see evidence of this geographic variation for this year visit the Guardian’s “The Counted,” which is tracking police deaths in the United States in real time.

Additionally, in our PLOS Medicine paper, we do present data on trends (1960-2011) for death due to legal intervention for eight different US cities:

  • The top five cities for number of persons killed by the police in 2015 (as of June 12, 2015): Los Angeles, Calif.; Houston, Texas; New York, N.Y.; Phoenix, Ariz.; San Francisco, Calif.
  • The three top cities most mentioned in 2015 (as of June 12, 2015) for protests against police violence: Ferguson, Mo.; Baltimore, Md.; Cleveland, Ohio

As these data show, there is considerable variation in rates across these cities (especially among the black men; less so for the white men), and there likewise is considerable variation in the excess risk of such deaths among the black vs. white men.

View the full AMA here.

Learn more

Call for police killings, police deaths to be reported as notifiable weekly public health data (Harvard Chan School news)