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MEASURING HOMICIDE BY POLICE OFFICERS

NCJ Number
64154
Journal
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology Volume: 70 Issue: 4 Dated: (WINTER 1979) Pages: 546-560
Author(s)
L W SHERMAN; R H LANGWORTHY
Date Published
1979
Annotation
THIS ANALYSIS PROVIDES TENTATIVE ANSWERS TO THREE CENTRAL QUESTIONS ABOUT THE ADEQUACY OF CURRENT MEASUREMENT OF HOMICIDE COMMITTED BY POLICE OFFICERS IN THE U.S.
Abstract
FIRST, IT SUGGESTS THAT THE NATIONAL INCIDENCE OF POLICE HOMICIDE IS SUBSTANTIALLY UNDERREPORTED, POSSIBLY BY AROUND 50 PERCENT, AND THAT THE POLICE MAY ACCOUNT FOR CLOSER TO 3.6 PERCENT OF ALL HOMICIDES RATHER THAN THE 1.8 PERCENT REFLECTED IN POLICE INTERNAL RECORDS, DEATH CERTIFICATES, AND NEWSPAPER STORIES. THE DATA FOUND IN THESE SOURCES SUFFER FROM A VARIETY OF ILLS, INCLUDING MECHANICAL AND CONCEPTUAL ERRORS INTRODUCED IN THE TRANSMISSION AND CODING OF DATA, FREQUENT POOR QUALITY OF THE MEDICAL DIAGNOSES OF DEATH CAUSES, AND CORONERS' LACK OF AWARENESS OF OR SUPPORT FOR THE LEGAL OBLIGATION TO SUPPLY NECESSARY INFORMATION TO CODE THE CAUSES OF DEATH ACCORDING TO INTERNATIONAL CLASSIFICATION OF DISEASES (ICD) CATEGORIES. MOREOVER, ICD CLASSIFICATION INSTRUCTIONS ARE VAGUE, CORONERS' PROCEDURES ARE DIVERGENT, AND CORONERS' RELATIONSHIPS WITH POLICE CAN INTERFERE WITH ACCURATE REPORTING. OTHER COMPLICATING FACTORS ARE (1) POLICE HESITANCY TO ALLOW EXTERNAL EXAMINATION OF STATISTICS ON POLICE USE OF DEADLY FORCE BECAUSE THEY CONSIDER SUCH INFORMATION TO BE FOR INTERNAL USE ONLY, (2) OF THESE DATA FROM THOSE GATHERED FROM OTHER SOURCES, AND (3) THE COST FACTORS INVOLVED IN GATHERING DATA FROM POLICE DEPARTMENTS NATIONWIDE. NEWSPAPER REPORTS ARE EVEN LESS RELIABLE SINCE POLICY VARIES ON THE NEWSWORTHINESS OF HOMICIDE. VITAL STATISTICS COMPILED BY THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR HEALTH STATISTICS ARE NOT CONSISTENT WITH ALTERNATE DATA FROM SOURCES LIKE POLICE RECORDS. HOWEVER, THE VITAL STATISTICS ARE USABLE IN CORRELATION WITH ALTERNATE DATA SOURCES WITH THEORETICALLY RELEVANT INDEPENDENT VARIABLES. AN ANALYSIS MATCHING BOTH THE YEAR AND CITY FOR A NONRANDOM CONVENIENCE SAMPLE OF 13 NEW YORK STATE JURISDICTIONS INDICATED RELATIVELY GOOD AGREEMENT BETWEEN VITAL STATISTICS DATA AND ALTERNATE DATA ON POLICE HOMICIDE RATES FOR THE FOR THE PERIOD 1967-1976. RECOMMENDATIONS ARE MADE FOR CONTINUED RESEARCH IN THIS AREA AND FOR REVISING PROCEDURES IN COMPILING MORTALITY STATISTICS. STUDY DATA AND REFERENCES ARE INCLUDED. (AUTHOR ABSTRACT MODIFIED--DAG)