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date: 15 July 2024

Measuring Homicide by Policelocked

Measuring Homicide by Policelocked

  • Matthew RennerMatthew RennerDepartment of Sociology, California Polytechnic State University, Pomona


When police officers end a human life, the social ramifications can be immense. Recent high-profile instances of homicide by police in the United States have served as a reminder of their potential impacts. Beyond the tragic loss of life and their acute effect on the people directly involved, these incidents have become a source of broad social conflict. At many points throughout American history, homicides by police have sparked protest and civil unrest, as well as catalyzed major social movements and countermovements that have profoundly altered the direction of the nation’s politics. Social scientists have long recognized the importance of studying homicides by police to understand their causes and consequences. Efforts to do so have historically been hampered by the poor quality of data on the phenomenon. Traditional methods of measuring homicides by police that rely on voluntary reporting by law enforcement agencies or information from death certificates have been shown to be inadequate for most empirical research applications. New and improved methods of measurement began emerging around 2010. They involve compiling information on homicides by police reported by news media and/or combining multiple sources of information to measure the phenomenon, and represent a tremendous improvement. These new methods have led to the production of data that have deepened people’s knowledge of homicide by police. Even so, these data are not perfect. Researchers should be aware of the various measurement issues that may arise when employing them. Finally, as measurement of homicide by police has improved, the ability to measure nonfatal police violence has not done so correspondingly. Poor measurement of nonfatal police violence continues to limit scientific understanding of homicide by police and police violence more generally.


  • Policing
  • Research Methods

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