MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Anthony L. Bui, MPH
M.D. Candidate, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Matthew M. Coates, MPH
Associate, Harvard Medical School, Department of Global Health and Social Medicine
Ellicott C. Matthay, MPH
Ph.D. Candidate, Division of Epidemiology, University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health
MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?
Response: Protests after recent deaths from encounters with law enforcement, the Black Lives Matter movement, and activism over social media platforms have raised the profile of the problem of police violence. Several studies have suggested that the public health community has a duty to address these deaths as a public health problem. These studies have also pointed out that although there is a lack of officially reported statistics on police violence, other journalistic and crowd-sourced efforts such as “The Counted” from The Guardian, FatalEncounters.org, U.S. Police Shootings Database, KilledbyPolice.net, and Mapping Police Violence have relatively complete documentation of deaths from police violence.
To help frame the issue as a public health problem, we calculated years of life lost (YLLs) attributed to deaths from encounters with law enforcement. YLLs are, a metric that measures premature deaths, by age, gender, and race/ethnicity. To do this, we followed established methods, subtracting the age of each death from a corresponding standard life expectancy. For example, if an individual who died at age 25 had a life expectancy of 75, their YLL would be 50.
MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?
Response: First, deaths from law enforcement are a major public health concern. We estimated that there were 57,375 and 54,754 years of life lost due to police violence in 2015 and 2016, respectively. This means that in the US, police violence rivals significant causes of death, including meningitis and maternal causes, and surpass unintentional firearm injuries and cyclist road injuries.
Second, deaths from law enforcement have extreme racial disparities. People of color comprised 38.5% of the population, but 51.5% of YLLs. Media reports and other studies have already shown that deaths from police violence disproportionately affect people of color. Our results confirm this, but also show that these deaths are occurring largely among young people who had long lives ahead of them and therefore contribute to more years of life lost. In particular, those dying at younger ages tend to be people of color.
Third, inadequacies in existing data remain a major barrier to appropriately assessing police violence. Producing better evidence, which is critical to relieving the burden that police violence has placed on youth, people of color, and society, requires greater public investment and improved data collection.
MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?
Response: Research to date on police violence is very limited, so there is much that that future research could cover, starting with more and better data collection. Police violence should be treated like a public health problem. If we treated police violence like a public health problem, we would clearly define and monitor the problem by carefully collecting high-quality data. We would use that data to identify identify risk and protective factors, and develop and test prevention strategies. Then we would assure widespread adoption of the prevention strategies found to be most effective.
There have been some efforts from activist organizations such as Campaign Zero and JusticeinPolicing.com to document policies for reduction in police violence described by nonprofits, government organizations including police departments, and academic research that might address police violence. Many approaches have been explored by the criminal justice field, but the field of public health can play a continued and increasing role in collaborating on, compiling, and disseminating this research in the interest of addressing these deaths and injuries. Research and advocacy can both be strengthened by the added lenses that public health professionals can add.
MedicalResearch.com: Anything else to add? Any disclosures?
Response: Our study only examined deaths. It does not capture burden of non-fatal injuries, long-term disability and indirect effects of police violence including trauma to families and social networks, stress-related health outcomes and government instability. These factors should also be considered when assessing the burden that police violence takes on society.
We have no conflicts of interest to report.
Citations: upcoming BMJ publication:
bit.ly/1mpYDGE Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, online May 7, 2018.
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