55,000 Americans Landed in Hospitals in 2012 After Police Encounters

The issue of U.S. police’s excessive use of force continues to be a major target for social justice advocates, fueling activist groups like Black Lives Matter. While it is becoming increasingly clear that American law enforcement not only uses force excessively but does so disproportionately against people of color, many may not be aware of the true extent of this crisis.

The British Medical Journal, one of the world’s oldest peer-reviewed health publications, recently published a study called “Perils of Police Action.” What it reveals may be startling, even for those keenly aware of the current state of police brutality.

In the BMJ study, it was found that in 2012, for every 291 legal police stops or arrests, there would be one that would result in hospitalization or even death.

Over 2012 as a whole, this meant at least 55,400 Americans received injuries from police that required hospital attention — of this group, over 1,000 were killed.

The study also presents another stunning finding: Police were on the other side of the gun in one in 13 non-self inflicted firearm deaths, as a whole, in the U.S. that year.

This is new information. Why? Though it may be hard to believe, there is no uniform data collection method done within and between U.S. law enforcement agencies, especially when it comes to local agencies. Moreover, when such tallying is supposed to occur, it is often incomplete; medical records frequently fail to mention how injuries were incurred.

With this official data missing, academic studies have long struggled to piece together a complete picture of police force. The authors of “Perils of Police Action,” however, gathered their data by combing through media reports, medical reports and what scant official records exist. Even still, their findings are likely to be conservative.

The BMJ study goes further, examining what groups are most affected by police force. Once an interaction begins, the study finds, likelihood of a resulting injury is generally equal. However, findings show the initiation of police interactions are disproportionately based on race in the first place.

Whereas police in 2012 were found to stop white Americans at a rate of 503 per 10,000, black Americans’ interaction rates were nearly triple, at 1,404 per 10,000. Native Americans come in as a close second at a rate of 1,141 per 10,000; Hispanics at 979.

This is a serious public health issue, albeit not at all a new one, the study’s lead author, Ted Miller, explains: “Police use of excessive force without due process of law has been with us forever as a problem, and since the Civil War it’s been viewed particularly as a problem for the black community.”

The question now should be: What can be done to curb use of force by police to lower injury and death rates?

Unfortunately, there is no singular answer. Much of what happens in the field for law enforcement officers is a product of their training and of police culture; as this study indicates, officers are accustomed to rapidly escalating situations in violent ways.

One of the simpler solutions may be found in body-worn cameras. Though they certainly won’t make excessive force disappear, body-worn cameras have been scientifically shown to have an enormous ability to curb police violence — in one study, body cams slashed use of force in half.

Much can and should be done to see that dozens of thousands of Americans are not hospitalized because police are unable or unwilling to deescalate a situation. This is a public health crisis, and no matter how much political opportunists like to chant “Blue Lives Matter,” we’re seeing time and time again that the organizations meant to protect and serve American citizens are, all too often, doing something very different.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock Images

104 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y10 months ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y10 months ago

thanks

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John J
John J10 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J10 months ago

thanks for sharing

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John B
John B2 years ago

Thanks for sharing the info.

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Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne R2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jen S.
Jen S2 years ago

I find this statistic beyond alarming.

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Margaret Goodman
Margaret Goodman2 years ago

Don Z. wrote, "Obey the law, cooperate with and be respectful to the police, don't run from the police when they want to speak with you or put on their blue lights.

Follow the simple steps above, like a normal human being, and you won't have to worry about being a so-called "victim"."

The article above says, " ... Once an interaction begins, the study finds, likelihood of a resulting injury is generally equal. ... " I read that to mean that just being respectful is not enough, once the interaction begins.

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Brian F.
Brian F2 years ago

Tia R As the wife of a police officer, I suggest you read the blogs on the police/one website, the main one in the country. You will see every police officer defending the killings of Kelly Thomas, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, and many others. Now these people were not saints, and may have even had a criminal record, but they didn't deserve to die. Two independent autopsies conducted by two different people confirmed Eric Garner died because of the brutal way he was handled by the police, who used an unauthorized choke hold. You need to tell your husband to admit when other officers use excessive force, and kill someone, and stop observing the blue wall of silence, or no snitch policy. Perhaps when the police are honest about their excessive use of violence, then people can respect them.

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