REPORT: 2021 Sets a Near Record High with Over 1,100 Police Killings

Protesters clash with police Chicago police on May 30, 2020. Photo: Jim Vondruska/NurPhoto via Getty Images

By Catherine Potente

WASHINGTON D.C. – Although a federal program here is being cut off for similar collection efforts, according to data collected by Mapping Police Violence, 1,134 killings by police occurred in 2021, a total greater than previous years.

Mapping Police Violence created a public accounting of police violence in 2021 with information collected from various sources, such as media reports, public records, databases, and obituaries.

However, according to Mapping Police Violence, the federal government’s Use of Force Data Collection program will shut down in 2022 due to the lack of data reported to the program by the nation’s law enforcement.

“Our analysis suggests the majority of killings by police in 2021 could have been prevented and that specific policies and practices might prevent police killings in the future,” said MPV.

Mapping Violence Police’s findings showed that of the 1,134 people killed by police, 97 percent of them were killed by police shootings.

“Most killings began with police responding to suspected non-violent offenses or cases where no crime was reported. 117 people were killed after police stopped them for a traffic violation,” the MPV report noted. Police officers were identified in 434 cases, but police officers were charged in only one percent of all killings.

Police enforced traffic violations include expired tags or tinted windows. The City of Berkeley aimed to restrict this enforcement with a new policy that was enacted in February 2021. This policy reduced the number of equipment violation stops, but overall traffic enforcement did not change.

In many areas, there has been a push for programs to send mental health providers to respond to mental health related 911 reports instead of police officers, due to 104 people being killed by police after erratic behavior was reported, said MPV.

The report names a few programs involved in this push, including the CAHOOTS Program based in Eugene, OR, which responds to 40 percent of mental health calls throughout the city and the Street Crisis Response Team in San Francisco, which responds to a 10 percent of mental health related calls citywide.

Of the total number of police killings, Black people were disproportionately killed. This data is observed year after year, 2021 being no exception, said MPV.

“Most unarmed people were people of color. Black people were more likely to be killed by police, more likely to be unarmed and less likely to be threatening someone when killed,” reported Mapping Police Violence.

This disproportionality is also observed when police are charged with crimes. Data showed that officers being charged with crimes are disproportionately prosecuted by Black prosecutors, especially women.

According to Mapping Police Violence, “Representing only one percent of the nation’s elected prosecutors, Black women were nine percent of prosecutors who charged officers for killing someone, 13 percent of prosecutors convicting officers and 20 percent of prosecutors charging officers in two or more deadly force incidents from 2013-2021.”

In many of the police killings in 2021, 55 people had a vehicle as a weapon, while 49 of those killings occurred when the police officers shot at a moving vehicle.

A police officer shooting someone in a moving vehicle is seen as dangerous because killing the driver would make the vehicle uncontrollable, creating a possible harm to the public.

Despite suggestions from experts, law enforcement groups, and the US Department of Justice to ban police from shooting at people in moving vehicles, many police departments still allow officers to do this, noted MPV’s analysis.

Mapping Police Violence reported that 161 people of the total killings were armed with a knife and half of those killings involved a person reportedly armed with a gun. However, when they were killed, one in eight of those people were not threatening anyone.

According to Mapping Police Violence, a little more than 50 percent of the police killings in 2021 involved, “traffic stops, police responses to mental health crises, or situations where the person was not reportedly threatening anyone with a gun.”

About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch operates in Yolo, Sacramento and Sacramento Counties with a mission to monitor and report on court cases. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org - please email info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org if you find inaccuracies in this report.

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  1. Alan Miller

    I am not denying there is a problem with police violence.  What I don’t understand is every article with this tone that leads with the number of killings goes out of its way to stress the stats on the ‘disproportionate’ numbers, but fails to address the number of the killings that were justified and the number of killings that were accidental and the number of killings that were executions of black people by white supremacist cops (or similar dynamic).  I know that in some cases there will be disagreement about which category to place the incident in, but surely most of them can be so categorized, and those that are disputed can be culled out. 

    I agree with initiating some of the programs proposed (like CAHOOTS) and doing everything this country can do to root out racist and bad cops (such as the legislation that made it much more difficult for bad cops to be rehired by other departments).  But lets stop acting/implying that every police shooting is an execution, because then I don’t feel want to listen to you about the positive changes that progressive and moderates can work on together.

    Playing to the base may get one laid at progressive parties, but it won’t change the minds of those not quite so progressive who you could have as allies by toning down the rhetoric.

    1. David Greenwald

      While I think you raise a good point Alan – I would suggest there are a few problems.

      First, I think while most understand that there are some shootings that are in fact justifiable under current laws, there are many that fall into the “lawful but awful” category. I saw one stat from this data that a full 57 percent of people killed were suffering from a mental health crisis which suggests that the number of avoidable shootings could be far higher than the number of illegal shootings.

      A second problem is we really don’t have a good idea of how many of the shootings are justified versus lawful but lawful versus bad shootings.

      As such I would argue looking at the data overall is probably best with a mind towards reducing that number over time.

      1. Keith Y Echols

        I don’t normally dive into this kind of thing but….

        I saw one stat from this data that a full 57 percent of people killed were suffering from a mental health crisis which suggests that the number of avoidable shootings could be far higher than the number of illegal shootings.

        Just because a person has mental health problems does not mean that a police shooting wasn’t warranted on the spot.  A schizophrenic person with a gun or knife that is threatening people will likely get a police officer to determine that they have to eliminate the threat on the spot.  Is that sad that this had to happen?  Yes.  Should efforts be made to help these people before it gets to that point?  Yes.  Should efforts be made to interact and defuse these situations on the spot?  Yes.  But that doesn’t negate the police’s responsibility for protecting the public….which unfortunately includes eliminating threats.  

        Side related story: Over 20 or so years ago, I was hanging out with my roommates in San Jose when we heard the noise of broken glass.  We went outside to investigate and saw a guy halfway down the court/block in his underwear/robe with a hammer and pointing to a small tray of some sort and very mad.  I had been borrowing my dad’s spare car that weekend because my car was in the shop.  This guy had broken my dad’s car windows.  The guy went back into his house and came out with a gun and started waving it around.  By then the police showed up and carefully got into place to surround the area.  They finally talked the guy down and he gave up his gun (so good for the SJ police).  It turned out that it was a starters pistol.  Inside the guy’s house was bizarre he had a refrigerator full of some sort of natural plant viagra and had thought my roommates and I were secretly poisoning his TV dinners.  I call my dad the next day to tell him what happened to his spare car (he didn’t care it was an old 1981 Dodge Colt station wagon).  But he was stunned because he had just met the guy in the prison as he was the clinical psychologist that met with prisoners to determine their mental fitness to stand trial.

        1. David Greenwald

          “Just because a person has mental health problems does not mean that a police shooting wasn’t warranted on the spot. ”

          One of the changes in policing is a move away from police to handle mental health calls because police are less qualified to handle them than mental health professionals.

        2. Keith Y Echols

          One of the changes in policing is a move away from police to handle mental health calls because police are less qualified to handle them than mental health professionals.

          Yes, I’m well aware of it.  And it’s a good idea to have a social worker of some sort be the primary initial contact for calls to help manage the homeless and/or mental health problems in a community.  But my point is that the police still have their role in removing threats to the community.  I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have the police respond to a call about someone who’s an armed threat; mentally ill or otherwise.

          The guy in my story got lucky.  The police did a good job of deescalating the situation but it could have gone much differently.  I hate to wonder if the guy had been from a different part of the city and if the guy hadn’t been some former middle class engineering manager (his descent from “normal” had started only a couple years prior).

          1. David Greenwald

            I think my point here is that we know there is a better way to police – we can quibble or perhaps debate over the precise mixture – and we should be able to greatly reduce the number of fatalities by doing that.

  2. Keith Olson

    Mapping Police Violence

    Just the name of this organization leads one to believe that it is biased.

    Why not ‘Mapping Police Actions’, ‘Mapping Police Responses’ or even ‘Mapping Police Use of Force’?

        1. David Greenwald

          Philip Stinson defines police violence as “any amount of force used by a nonfederal sworn law enforcement officer that cannot be accounted for under the auspices of lawful necessity in the line of duty”

    1. Ron Oertel

      Given their bias, I’m surprised that they didn’t use another word for police, which also starts with the letter “p”.

      And without independent verification, I wouldn’t believe these numbers anyway.

      In any case, how about “Mapping Regional Actions by Police” (MRAP)?

      I saw on the national news last night that there was a (record?) number of police killed last year.

        1. Ron Oertel

          The perpetrators of that already get free “room and board” – plus $200 when they’re ultimately evicted. 🙂

          God, I sound so conservative on here. I blame the Vanguard for that, as well!

        2. Ron Oertel

          I would expect that the police would ultimately “win” in most “violent” confrontations. They’re not out there trying to engage in old-West type duels. Reminds me of that song, “I fought the law, and the law won”.

          In any case, I would think that most people are primarily concerned about violence committed by criminals against other citizens.  Those numbers far-outweigh any “violence” in regard to police confrontations.  Murders, assaults, etc. The very thing that police “step into”.

          Here’s a related disturbing, violent trend that was (also) reported on the national news last night:

        3. Alan Miller

          God, I sound so conservative on here. I blame the Vanguard for that, as well!

          That’s so funny, and so well timed:  I was talking to a police officer hours ago whom I’d not met before.  We were discussing some of the progressive values of Davis and the anti-police sentiment of some residents.  We were laughing at the fact that we both considered ourselves left of center and the officer a lifelong Democrat, yet relative to modern Davis politics, we could both sound to some like, ahem: ‘conservatives’ (as I know a certain, ahem, group of us commenters have been so labeled by some who comment here).  I don’t want to give any information to identify the officer, but let’s just say also they were not a white supremacist nor could they be if they tried.

          BUT, given that people were twisting themselves into knots to explain that Natalie Corona was displaying symbols of white supremacy while posing with a blue line flag to honor fallen officers — and so respectfully so 😐 three days after her murder — I suppose anything is possible.

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