A public health solution of treating all law-enforcement-related deaths as a notifiable condition, which would allow public health departments to report these data in real-time, could help to address the ongoing problem of police violence and police deaths in the United States according to Nancy Krieger and colleagues from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, United States, in a new Essay published this week in PLOS Medicine.
Although deaths of police officers are well documented, no reliable official US data exist on the number of persons killed by the police, in part because police departments have been unwilling to make these data public. These deaths, however, are countable, as evidenced by "The Counted," a website launched on June 1, 2015, by the newspaper The Guardian, published in the United Kingdom.
In their article the authors argue that law-enforcement-related deaths, of both persons killed by law enforcement agents and also law enforcement agents killed in the line of duty, are a public health concern, not solely a criminal justice concern, since these events involve mortality and affect the well-being of the families and communities of the deceased. As such, public health departments could make law-enforcement-related deaths a reportable health condition that would enable the reporting of these data in real-time, at the local as well as national level, thereby providing data needed to understand and prevent the problem.
The authors note, "[u]nderscoring the need for this public health approach is the new statement, on Oct. 5, 2015, by the recently appointed US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, that the Department of Justice (DOJ) will begin piloting, in 2016, an open-source system akin to that used by The Counted to count the number of "officer-related deaths"... "
The authors conclude, "[t]imely public health data on all law-enforcement-related deaths, per that provided by the system of reportable notifiable conditions, will be all the more important for providing a credible source of data and verification, should the proposed DOJ pilot be successful and also sustainable past the upcoming presidential elections in November 2016."
This work was not supported by any funds. Therefore, there were no funders who could have had any role in the study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.
The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.
Krieger N, Chen JT, Waterman PD, Kiang MV, Feldman J (2015) Police Killings and Police Deaths Are Public Health Data and Can Be Counted. PLoS Med 12(12): e1001915. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001915
Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America
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