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Years of life lost due to encounters with law enforcement in the USA, 2015–2016
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  • Published on:
    An intervention, not an accident: Research into use of force by police requires understanding its context and counterfactuals

    In “Years of life lost due to encounters with law enforcement in the USA, 2015–2016,” Bui et al. estimate the public health impact of police use of force by a simple computation of the years of life lost by the people killed by police.[1] Unnecessary use of force by police is a problem demanding serious attention, and leadership in policing has responded with interventions and training in recent years to improve de-escalation techniques and reduce the incidence of unnecessary or unlawful use of force. Bui et al.’s analysis, however, fails to consider three key factors in these analyses: first, the distinction between necessary and unnecessary/unlawful uses of force; second, the potential impacts on years of life lost had the police not have intervened in these specific scenarios; and third, the broader impacts of police intervention on public health.
    Police may use lethal force when they have sufficient reason to believe that a person poses a risk of serious physical injury or death to another person. A reporter for The Washington Post concludes that “the vast majority of individuals shot and killed by police officers… were armed with guns and killed after attacking police officers or civilians or making other direct threats.”[2] Unnecessary or unjustified use of force by police are thought to account for about five percent of the total number of incidents of use of force,[2] with great skeptics acknowledging they are certainly fewer than 50%.[3] Including sensitivit...

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    Conflict of Interest:
    None declared.