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Police Killings Continue At High Rate, Raising Doubts About Reforms

Photo: Aaron Nesheim for The New York Times

Police officers continue to kill people at an alarming rate, finds a data analysis that has raised concerns about the Biden administration’s push to expand police investments amid growing concerns about crime, The Guardian reports. Law enforcement in the U.S. have killed 249 people this year as of last week, averaging about three deaths per day and mirroring the deadly force trends of recent years, says Mapping Police Violence, a non-profit research group.

The data suggest that in the nearly two years since George Floyd’s murder, the U.S. has made little progress in preventing deaths at the hands of law enforcement, and that the 2020 promises of systemic reforms have fallen short.

Police have killed about 1,100 people each year since 2013. In 2021, officers killed 1,136 people – one of the deadliest years on record. Mapping Police Violence tracks deaths recorded by police, governments and the media, including cases where people were fatally shot, beaten, restrained, and Tasered.

The Washington Post has reported similar trends, and found that 2021 broke the record for fatal shootings by officers since the newspaper started its database tracking in 2015.

“The shocking regularity of killings suggests that nothing substantive has really changed to disrupt the nationwide dynamic of police violence,” said Samuel Sinyangwe, who founded Mapping Police Violence and Police Scorecard, which evaluates departments. “It demonstrates that we’re not doing enough, and if anything, it appears to be getting slightly worse year over year.”

Advocates argue that the persistent rate of killings is a reason why the U.S. should not be expanding its police forces.

President Biden, who has repeatedly said to “fund the police”, released a budget proposal this week for $30 billion in law enforcement and crime prevention efforts over a decade, including funding to put “more police officers on the beat”.

The proposal, which called for the expansion of “accountable, community policing”, prompted criticisms from racial justice groups. The Movement for Black Lives noted that the White House was proposing only $367 million to support police reform and said Biden’s budget “shows a blatant disregard for his promises to Black people, masked as an effort to decrease crime.”

Michael Gwin, a White House spokesperson, said Biden “remains committed to advancing long-overdue police reforms”.

During the national uprisings after Floyd’s murder, “defund the police” became a rallying cry, with advocates arguing reform efforts had failed to prevent killings and misconduct.

Some cities responded with modest cuts to police budgets, in some cases removing officers from schools, traffic enforcement and other divisions, and investing in alternatives.

Over the last year, an uptick in gun violence and homicides has prompted a backlash to the idea of defunding, even as the current crime rate remains significantly lower than in prior decades prior.

Cities that made small cuts have largely restored and expanded law enforcement budgets.

“To invest more into a system that we all know is broken is really a slap in the face to everyone who marched in summer 2020,” said Chris Harris of the Austin, Tx., Justice Coalition in Texas. “It reflects just a real lack of solutions to the problems that we face. It’s just more of the same – even if it’s exactly the thing that we know continues to hurt and kill people.”

Sinyangwe said a data analysis in Los Angeles showed that in recent years, one-third of incidents in which the Los Angeles Police Department used force involved an unhoused person. He said, “Instead of using force against homeless people, we should be investing in services and creating unarmed civilian responses to these issues.”

In Los Angeles, there has been an escalating law enforcement crackdown on street encampments. LAPD is on track to get a large budget boost, despite a sharp increase in killings by officers in 2021.

Proponents of police budget increases argue that law enforcement is the solution to violence, but Sinyangwe noted that fewer than five percent of arrests nationally are for serious violent crimes. Research has shown that when police forces expand, there are more arrests for low-level offenses, he said. Many high-profile killings by police have involved stops for alleged low-level crimes.


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