Not just “a few bad apples”: U.S. police kill civilians at much higher rates than other countries

Police violence is a systemic problem in the U.S., not simply incidental, and it happens on a scale far greater than other wealthy nations.

by Alexi Jones and Wendy Sawyer, June 5, 2020

There is no question that the number of police killings of civilians in the U.S. – who are disproportionately Black and other people of color – are the result of policies and practices that enable and even encourage police violence. Compared to police in other wealthy democracies, American police kill civilians at incredibly high rates:

chart comparing the rates of police killings in the U.S. with 9 other wealthy nations. The U.S. rate of 33.5 per 10 million people is over 3 times higher than the next-highest rate, which is 9.8 per 10 million people in Canada

The chart above compares the annual rates of police killings in each country, accounting for differences in population size. This is the most apples-to-apples comparison we can make with this data.1 But the total number of deaths at the hands of police is also worth seeing in comparison with other countries:

chart comparing the total number of police killings in the U.S. with 9 other wealthy nations. U.S. police killed 1,099 people in 2019, while none of the other 9 countries compared had more than 36 police killings in the most recent year with data

The sources for these charts are listed in the table below. For more statistics on police, arrests, and incarceration in the United States, see these other pages:

Country Annual number of law enforcement killings Total population Law enforcement killings per 10 million people Source for number of law enforcement killings Data year Source for total population
United States 1,099 328,239,523 33.5 Mapping Police Violence 2019 U.S. Census Population Clock (population as of July 1, 2019)
Canada 36 36,708,083 9.8 CBC News, Deadly force:
Fatal encounters with police in Canada: 2000-2017
2017 Statistics Canada (population estimate as of July 1, 2017)
Australia 21 24,770,700 8.5 National Deaths in Custody Program, Deaths in custody in Australia 2017-18. This includes deaths that occurred in police custody and custody-related operations (i.e. motor vehicle pursuit deaths). 2017-2018 (1 year of data) Australian Demographic Statistics December 2017 (Year-end 2017 population estimate)
The Netherlands 4 17,282,163 2.3 Public Prosecution Service, (translated from Dutch by Google here) 2019 Statistics Netherlands (CBS) Population key figures (2019 population estimate)
New Zealand 1 4,840,600 2.1 NZ Police Tactical
Options Research Report, 2018
2018 New Zealand Government Statistics (Year-end 2018 estimate)
Germany 11 82,905,782 1.3 DPA news agency, as cited by Deutsche Welle in German police kill sword-wielding man in front of his mother (2019) 2018 The World Bank, population data (2018 population estimate)
England and Wales 3 59,439,840 0.5 INQUEST, Fatal police shootings 2019 UK Office for National Statistics, Estimates of the population for the UK, England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (see link to Excel file; we used mid-2019 population estimate for England and Wales only)
Japan 2 126,529,100 0.2 Axios, Police kill far more people in the U.S. than in most rich countries (2020) 2018 The World Bank, population data (2018 population estimate)
Iceland 0 352,721 0 NBC News, Iceland is a gun-loving country with no shooting murders since 2007 (2018) Every year except 2013, when the police shot and killed someone for the first and only time. The World Bank, population data (2018 population estimate)
Norway 0 5,311,916 0 Norwegian Bureau for the Investigation of Police Affairs, Annual Report 2018 (reporting no fatal shootings that year) 2018 The World Bank, population data (2018 population estimate)

Footnotes

  1. The data here reflect the number of police killings of civilians reported in each country. They do not account for the manner of death, as that data was not available for every country. The rates account for population only; they do not reflect differences in police-public contact rates nor the rate of gun ownership in each country, nor any other point of comparison that might partially explain these differences. The statistics presented here can only illuminate the vast differences between policing in the U.S. and in other wealthy nations, not explain them.  ↩

Alexi Jones is a Policy Analyst at the Prison Policy Initiative. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact) Wendy Sawyer is the Prison Policy Initiative Research Director. (Other articles | Full bio | Contact)



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