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Law enforcement-related deaths in the US undercounted in official government data


The number of people who die as a result of injuries inflicted by law enforcement officers in the United States is undercounted in official government data derived from state death certificates. That is the conclusion of a study by Justin Feldman of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, USA, and colleagues published in PLOS Medicine. The study showed that compared to The Counted, a news-media-based resource that documented 93.1% of the estimated 1,166 such deaths in 2015, the National Vital Statistics System documented only 44.9%.

Using capture-recapture, a method commonly used in ecology to estimate a population size, along with multilevel logistic regression, the study further showed that deaths outside of the highest-income counties and deaths caused by other than a gunshot wound were most likely to be miscounted.

This study affirms shortcomings in official counts of law enforcement-related deaths but also points to potential ways to improve reporting through greater accuracy in death certificates and the inclusion of news-media-based sources. In emphasizing the importance of public health monitoring of law enforcement-related deaths the authors say: "Better-quality data would allow researchers to quantify various forms of social inequality that may be linked to law enforcement-related mortality ... and identify whether incidence is increasing or decreasing over time."



Data acquisition was funded by the Open Society Foundations. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests:

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.


Feldman JM, Gruskin S, Coull BA, Krieger N (2017) Quantifying underreporting of law-enforcement-related deaths in United States vital statistics and news-media-based data sources: A capture-recapture analysis. PLoS Med 14(10): e1002399.

Author Affiliations:

Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America Program on Global Health and Human Rights, Institute for Global Health, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, California, United States of America

Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts, United States of America


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