GUNSStudy of Fatal and Nonfatal Shootings by Police Reveals Racial Disparities, Dispatch Risks

Published 13 April 2024

Analysis, thought to be one of the first published studies that captures both fatal and nonfatal injurious shootings by police nationally, also highlights risks of well-being checks.

A new study from researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions and Vanderbilt University found that an average of 1,769 people were injured annually in police shootings from 2015 to 2020, 55 percent of them or 979 people, fatally. The study covered a total of 10,308 incidents involving shootings by police. The Center is based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The majority of victims in shootings by police—84 percent overall—were reported as armed with a firearm or other weapon, such as a knife or vehicle, during the six-year study period.

The analysis found that overall, when injuries occurred, police responses initiated by a call to emergency dispatchers were 46 percent more likely to end with a fatal shooting injury than incidents where an officer was already on scene. Calls to police to check on the well-being of individuals were 74 percent more likely to be associated with fatal injury than police responses to an incident where shots had already been fired. This includes wellness checks that did not explicitly involve threats or harm before an encounter with police.  

The study was published online March 13 in the American Journal of Public Health.

The new findings also suggest that injury disparities among racial groups are underestimated when looking only at fatal shootings. Among people nonfatally injured in police shootings, victims identified as non-Hispanic Black comprised 29 percent (2,226) of race-identified (those with racial data included in records) injured people in this study. In comparison, a 2015 study examining fatal shootings by police in a single year found that 26 percent of victims were non-Hispanic Black people.

The study found that, relative to white victims, non-Hispanic Black people were disproportionately injured in nonfatal shootings by police and had 35 percent lower odds of fatal injury when shot.

Firearm research often focuses on fatalities, as they are listed as the cause of death and reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Currently, there is no database that consistently and reliably tracks nonfatal firearm injuries for the general population. As for shootings by police, reporting by law enforcement agencies to the federal government’s data systems is voluntary, and death certificate inclusion of law enforcement involvement is inconsistent. Researchers say this makes official reporting unreliable. The researchers undertook this study to get a fuller picture of shootings by police.