The U.S. set another grim record last year as the number of people killed by police continued its steady increase, says a new report from the organization Mapping Police Violence.
Police killed more than 1,300 people in 2023, a year that saw several high-profile cases including the fatal beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, the shooting of an environmental activist protesting the construction of a police and fire training center near Atlanta and the death of a Virginia man who was "smothered" in a hospital.
There were only 14 days without a police killing last year and on average, law enforcement officers killed someone every 6.6 hours. The study is primarily based on news reports and includes data from state and local government agencies, reports USA Today.
The number of such killings has risen since Campaign Zero, which runs the Mapping Police Violence project, began tracking the data in 2013. Meanwhile last year, the number of people killed by gunfire and of officers killed in the line of duty declined, according to the Gun Violence Archive. There was an increase in the number of police officers shot.
"We've seen [the number of police killings] stay similar or even creep up a little bit at times when crime was falling or at times when crime was increasing. We saw it persist throughout a global pandemic when people were staying home for several weeks, months," said Justin Nix, a criminal justice professor at the University of Nebraska Omaha. "It appears to me then that the only way to get this number down significantly would be to make more significant changes to ...what policing means in this country."
At least 1,329 people were killed by police last year, an increase from 1,250 the year prior, says Mapping Police Violence. New Mexico, where a man was fatally shot by police officers who responded to the wrong address in April, had the highest rate of fatalities per capita, with 10.9 killings per 1 million residents, followed by Alaska and West Virginia.
Campaign Zero said racial disparities seen in previous years have also persisted at a similar rate. Black people were nearly three times were more likely than white people to be killed by police.
In about 25% of the encounters, the victim was showing signs of a mental health problem or alcohol or drug use, but these factors are not always reported or clear.
Nix said that the same factors that he believes drove the increase in the number of police officers shot last year is likely contributing to the consistent increase in police shootings of civilians: guns.
"When you ask human beings to go out and police a country awash with guns and train them and socialize them in their heads that a gun could be lurking around any corner, this is what you get," Nix said.
Chuck Wexler of the Police Executive Research Forum said research shows de-escalation training provided by his organization can work. Wexler said not all of the country's more than 18,000 law enforcement agencies have actually implemented such training, efforts he said are complicated by staffing issues and pushback from departments that believe the training they have is sufficient.
"They're working off of outdated, antiquated training," he said. "And until that training changes, and until the culture with it changes, that number is going to be way too high. We can cut officer involved shootings with the right training."