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In 2001, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) issued a major report examining the use of deadly force by police officers in the line of duty, covering the period 1976-1998. Below are some of the report's key findings. It should be noted that the study did not distinguish between whites and Hispanics, but instead categorized all members of those two demographics as “White.” Thus, in the synopsis below, the study's "White" category will instead be called “W&H” (Whites & Hispanics).

* Of the 8,578 civilians killed by police during those years, 98% were males. Some 55% of those males were W&H, and 41% were black.

* The average age of those who were killed by police from 1976-98 was 31. In most years, more justifiable police homicides occurred against felons in their twenties than against those in any other age group.

* From 1976-98, police officers killed an average of 373 civilians per year.

* During the entire 1976-98 period, 56% of all suspects killed by police were W&H, and 42% were black.

* In 1978, 50% of the civilians killed by police were W&H, and 49% were black. In 1988, 59% of the civilians killed by police were W&H, and 39% were black. In 1998, 62% of the civilians killed by police were W&H, and 35% were black. For year-by-year racial breakdown of these killings, click here and go to page 7, table 4.

* From 1976-98, 84% of police officers who killed criminal suspects were W&H, and 15% were black. In most years, officers aged 25 to 29 accounted for more justifiable homicides of felons, than officers in any other age group.

* Fully 98% of those police officers who killed a suspect in the line of duty between 1976-98 were males. Approximately 96% of the time, the suspect was also a male.

* In about 65% of all justifiable homicides by police during 1976-98, the officer's race and the suspect's race were the same. When a W&H officer killed a suspect, that suspect was usually a W&H (63%); and when a black officer killed a suspect, that suspect was usually a black (81%).

* In 1998, the "black officer kills black felon" rate was 32 per 100,000 black officers, considerably higher than the "W&H officer kills black felon" rate of 14 per 100,000 W&H officers. That same year, the "W&H officer kills W&H felons" rate was 28 per 100,000 W&H officers, which was higher than the "black officer kills W&H felon" rate of 11 per 100,000 black officers.

With regard to other types of police use of force (i.e., besides homicide), another BJS report states that in their face-to-face contacts with civilians, police either use, or threaten to use, force about 1% of the time; police use of force typically occurs at the lower end of the force spectrum, involving grabbing, pushing, or shoving; and approximately 80% of those arrests in which police use force involve weaponless tactics. Chemical agents, such as pepper spray, were the weapons most frequently used (in 1.2% of all arrests), and firearms were used least often (0.2%).

When injuries occur as a result of police use of force, they are usually minor. In one study, researchers found that the most common injury to a suspect was a bruise or abrasion (48%). Use of force typically occurs when police are trying to make an arrest and the suspect is resisting.

Criminologists Geoffrey Alpert and Roger Dunham report that officers are more likely to use force against suspects of their own racial group.



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Understanding the Use of Force By and Against the Police in Six Jurisdictions
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