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Police Shootings Are Just As Likely In Rural Areas

Data from The Washington Post compiled in the last five years dramatically expanded understanding of fatal police shootings. Researchers found surprising consistencies in the rates of shootings between urban and rural areas.
Data from The Washington Post compiled in the last five years dramatically expanded understanding of fatal police shootings. Researchers found surprising consistencies in the rates of shootings between urban and rural areas.

Researchers at Harvard University and Northeastern University found that the rate of fatal police shootings in rural parts of the country between 2015 and 2017 were about the same as in cities.

The researchers used five different classifications for rural and urban, including from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Census Bureau and one created by the statistics website FiveThirtyEight.com.

Lead author David Hemenway at Harvard said the results were pretty similar across the five classifications. According to their review of The Washington Post’s fatal police shooting database, about 0.3 out of every 100,000 people were killed by police from 2015 through 2017, in both rural and urban settings.

“We are such an anomaly among the other high income countries in terms of our police that they are at incredibly high risk of being shot and killed. And … they are at an incredibly high risk of shooting civilians,” Hemenway said.

Hemenway said police officers in the U.S. are 30 times more likely to kill a civilian and 30 times more likely to be killed than officers in Germany.

While the researchers did not offer policy suggestions, Hemenway said these findings show more attention should be paid to training and policies at small police departments outside big cities.

There have been several recent studies based on The Washington Post’s project that have pointed out a surprising similarity in rates between cities and rural areas. According to Hemenway, this is a new finding because there was no good data before 2015. The only data sources available to researchers were death records and self-reporting from police departments.

“And these have been used for decades,” Hemenway said. “And it turns out that they almost miss half of all the police killings. So using that data was incredibly misleading.”

As a result of The Washington Post’s reporting, about 500 fatal police shootings more, per year, were found between 2015 and 2017 by combing through local news reports missed by previous sources.

Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.

Copyright 2020 Guns and America. To see more, visit Guns and America.