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Rate Of Deaths in Sheriffs' Cases Exceed Those Of City Police

County sheriff's officers are three times more lethal than city police. More people were killed by U.S. law enforcement in 2023 than any other year in the past decade, outpacing population growth eightfold. Despite a focus on urban areas, fatal police violence is increasingly happening in small towns at the hands of sheriffs, the top law enforcement officials in counties nationwide. The finding comes from yearlong reporting effort by CBS News that documented chronic misconduct in sheriff's offices and oversight failures that can enable abuses to go unchecked. The consequences can be fatal. The majority of those cases go unreported, in violation of state and federal laws, making patterns of abuse harder to detect and stop.


Federal law enforcement data that showed while more people died overall in encounters with city police, deaths in cases involving county sheriffs occurred at a significantly higher rate. For every 100,000 people arrested, more than 27 people died in the custody of sheriffs, while that number was fewer than 10 for police officers in 2022, the most recent year of available data. "We should be scrutinizing sheriff's offices as much as we are police departments," said Chiraag Bains, a former civil rights prosecutor who was deputy director of the White House Domestic Policy Council until 2023. "They don't get enough scrutiny." Sheriffs' officers are twice as deadly as they were a decade ago, and increasingly, they are taking on a larger role in policing towns, as small police departments have been shutting down and ceding their responsibilities to county sheriffs. A dozen sheriffs interviewed said they hold themselves to a high standard. Some acknowledged that there is little is in place to hold them accountable if they don't. Many attribute that to their unique status as independently elected officials who are empowered with the discretion to take away a person's life or liberty.

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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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