As 2023 begins, American police polish off another deadly year, ending 1,176 lives in 2022. This number is a new record for police killings in America and yet still, it is set to increase by one, on average, every 8 hours.
Since 2018, cops in America have killed 5,668 citizens. And most people are not saying anything about it.
While it may be easy for some to write off police killings as a problem of American gun culture, this is not major factor. According to a report by the Institute for Criminal Justice Training Reform (ICJTR), Finland has one the highest gun-ownership rates in Europe, with around 32 civilian firearms per 100 people – but incidents of police shooting civilians are extremely rare. We could only find 9 examples of police killings in Finland in the last two decades, one of which was an accidental shooting of a prison guard.
What’s more, as TFTP reported in 2021, the majority of police killings involve calls in which there was no crime or the suspect is only suspected of a non-violent offense.
“Most killings began with police responding to suspected non-violent offenses or cases where no crime was reported,” according to a report from PoliceViolenceReport.org
It gets worse.
Of the 1,176 people killed by police in 2022, only 1 in 3 were suspected of a violent offense. The majority were suspected of a non-violent offense or no crime at all, while another 8% were killed over a traffic violation.
Ever wonder why cops yell “quit resisting” as they beat a person who’s not resisting? Or why they shoot people who pose no threat? Maybe the answer is right in front of us. Many folks who are given the authorization to use deadly force and authority to kidnap and cage citizens — aren’t the sharpest tools in the chest. One would think that giving someone so much authority should come with testing their intelligence for competence. However, one would be wrong.
In an analysis conducted by TFTP in 2014, we found that hairstylists in nearly every state are required to have significantly more training than men and women who are given a badge and a gun and sent out into our neighborhoods. Below are just a few examples.
New York has one of the lowest requirements in order to become a licensed cosmetologist. However, it is still 36 % more required training than a cop must undergo, coming in at 1000 hours.
North Carolina police must complete the Basic Law enforcement Training (BLET) Curriculum which consists of a mere 620 hours.
The average North Carolina hairstylist is required to complete 2.4 times more training, 1500 hours, and they will never be tasked with serving a no-knock warrant or shaking down potential drug dealers.
In Chicago, Illinois, their boys in blue have one of the highest requirements for hours completed to become a cop and it comes in at 1000 hours.
Illinois hairdressers are still required to complete 500 more hours than police.
New Mexico, whose track record over the last several years has sparked a special investigation by the Justice Department, ironically lowered their required amount of training to be a police officer in 2014.
The state mandate for basic police training was slashed by more than 25 percent, from 22 weeks to 16 weeks to total 650 hours.
While there is no direct correlation between a lack of training and an increase in killing, it is obvious that the training police are receiving in the United States is at least partially responsible for the massive death toll. Obviously, however, the problem is multi-faceted.
Even when police departments require a college degree in the United States, it doesn’t seem to curb the violence. Some states already require college courses for cops like Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey and North Dakota who require a bachelor’s degree or an associate degree, yet those cops are still incredibly violent. Also, there are likely plenty of good cops out there who haven’t gone to college or finished high school.
The training requirement is just one of many steps needed to help reform policing. But one of the most drastic and effective steps to take needs to be ending the war on drugs, immediately.
This would aid in the cultural shift needed to reform policing in America by removing the monetary and often sadistic incentives dangled in front of law enforcement’s face like a carrot, that entices them to rob, kidnap, and even sodomize people to “protect” society from an arbitrary substance deemed illegal by the state.
Enforcement of victimless crimes is a major factor in creating unnecessary police interactions which fuel violence. Some people see this and are taking action.
Another major issue in police training is their ability to deal with the mentally ill. There is a reason doctors and nurses don’t treat patients with handguns and tasers which is why police shouldn’t be responding to mental health crises looking for a fight.
The list of unarmed and often completely innocent mentally ill people killed by police is immense. TFTP archives are full of tragic stories in which police were called to help someone in a crisis and end up murdering them. People are killed even when they aren’t in a crisis and simply act differently like Elijah McClain, who was on his way home from buying groceries and was murdered by police because he was an introvert and wore a ski mask.
This is why some municipalities have begun removing cops from the situation entirely—and the results are phenomenal.
On June 1, 2020, Denver began the Support Team Assistance Response (STAR) program, which sends a mental health professional and a paramedic to some 911 calls instead of cops. When we first reported on the program in October 2020, their results were fantastic. Now, it seems that departments who continue the old way are doing a disservice to the mentally ill.
According to their latest data, STAR has responded to more than 2,500 calls to 911 in which police would have normally been sent out. The STAR team—armed only with experience and compassion—has never once called police to back them up and no one was ever arrested.
They have settled every single call without killing someone, beating them, ruining their lives, or using violence. Imagine that.
Another type of encounter that turns deadly all too often is the traffic stop.
While almost everyone in America commits these same traffic infractions designed for revenue collection instead of safety, most of the people targeted by police for these crimes are the poor and minorities. All too often, officers treat these stops as gateways to fish for drug activity or other victimless crimes. While ending the drug war would have a much more profound effect, some municipalities have kicked around the idea of removing traffic stops from the mission of police officers.
Traffic stops in the land of the free, are a means of bolstering the prison industrial complex by extracting revenue from those who can pay and incarcerating others who cannot.
For those too poor to pay their tickets, routine traffic stops end up in repeated imprisonment due to mounting fines. Cities across the country are running a de facto debtors’ prison this way.
When cops aren’t routinely extorting and locking people up for petty traffic offenses, they are killing them.
Walter Scott was pulled over for a broken taillight. Scott—unarmed—ran away from the police officer, who pursued and shot him from behind, first with a Taser, then with a gun. Scott was struck five times, “three times in the back, once in the upper buttocks and once in the ear — with at least one bullet entering his heart.”
The list of folks killed over traffic stops is as long as it is infuriating.
While these numbers and statistics are infuriating by themselves, they are likely an undercount. The numbers that are released publicly are staggering, however, according to a 2021 study, they are actually far worse.
The study, conducted by the University of Washington and published in the British medical journal, The Lancet, found that police killings in America have been undercounted by more than half over the past four decades.
The study found that the NVSS data undercounted police killings by 55.5 percent between 1980 and 2018. Overall, according to the researchers, “the misclassification of police violence in NVSS data is extensive.”
Just how big of an undercount is 55.5 percent? Roughly 17,000 people. The study tracked the time period that roughly encompasses the war on drugs and the rise of the prison industrial complex and according to the private open source data, 31,000 Americans were killed by cops during this period. According to the government, however, only 14,000 were killed—which is still unacceptable but massively wrong.
Despite the constantly-increasing list of those killed by police, most American citizens think that reining in America’s deadly police problem is somehow “unpatriotic” or “un-American.” Instead of the Right realizing the threat to freedom caused by cops who can kill thousands with impunity, they blame the Left and vice-versa.
The result of this complacency and failure to address the problem has been less freedom and more gun grabs.
Until Americans educate themselves on the cause of this violence—like the war on drugs and policing for profit—uninformed and corrupt lawmakers will continue to focus on controlling the symptoms.
We will see more senseless killings and more innocent lives stripped of opportunity by getting entangled in the system and the system. It is high time we end the drug war and retrain police to see the American public as a friend—and not an enemy. The solutions are in front of us, we just have to implement them.
This article was originally featured at The Free Thought Project and is republished with permission.