Walter Scott Would Not Have Been Killed by NYC Cops

04/10/2015 01:04 pm ET | Updated Jun 10, 2015

Police killed 291 civilians nationwide in the first three months of 2015, according to press and TV reports.

Before the year is out, police will kill 1,000 more civilians, most of whom will not be armed with a gun.


We must realize this is a national epidemic of homicide that must be treated. There are better ways of training police that can help.

For example, New York City police are not allowed to shoot at fleeing suspects unless there is the high probability that the perpetrator will immediate kill or harm someone else. If this simple rule had been in place in North Charleston, Walter Scott would be alive today.

Such a regulation is only logical.

"If someone is running away from you, they don't pose a threat to you," said John Miller, Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counter-terrorism of the NYPD, when commenting on the Scott killing.

This was not always so.

From 1970 to 1972, police in NYC killed an average of 71 people per year. The NYPD instituted stricter guidelines and more professional training after a well-publicized incident in which a cop in Queens shot and killed an unarmed 10-year old-boy in the back.

Police were then banned from shooting at moving vehicles and fleeing suspects, and the drop in police killings of civilians was dramatic. Only an average of 11 people were killed annually from 2011 to 2013. Overall police shootings in NYC also dropped dramatically in the last two decades: from 332 to 105.

This may be related to dropping crime rates (an 85 percent drop in murders from 1990 to 2013) in addition to better training and procedures. Los Angeles police recorded 164 shootings in 1990, and that number dropped to just 65 shootings in 2010.


But the data is conclusive. New York City police are the good guys if you measure how many civilians are killed per year. (The Eric Garner killing was more arguably an accident, very different from when a policeman shoots someone up to 10 times from 15 to 20 feet away.)

There are wide discrepancies in the rate of police killings among major metropolitan police departments when measured against population figures.

New York City -- with a police homicide rate of 1 in 123,529 citizens -- ranks near the top (best, least people killed) of large cities in the U.S. The NYPD killed 68 people from 2007 to 2012 out of a population of 8.4 million.

In Miami-Dade County, in a population of 2.5 million, (less than a third of the people living in NYC) police killed 68 citizens during that same five-year period. This means that citizens of Miami are 3.5 times more likely to killed by their local policeman than their counterparts in New York City.

A review of police shooting data from the FBI, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and figures from 105 major police departments (obtained by The Wall Street Journal) -- when overlaid with population figures -- revealed that the Los Angeles Police Department killed 111 citizens during this period in a population of 3.8 million, which works out to one police homicide per 34,234 persons. An indication that the average citizen's chance of being killed by a policeman is nearly four times greater in Los Angeles than in New York City.

Wilfrado A. Ferrer, the United States attorney for South Florida, studied police shooting incidents in Miami and noted the high rate of Miami shootings when compared to New York. In 2010, there was one fatal shooting for every 4,300 officers in New York, compared to one for every 220 officers in Miami.

If all police enforcement departments used the best practices of New York and Boston, which came in first place, it certainly seems likely that well over half of police killings might have been avoided. More than 3,000 lives could have been saved during that five-year period.

Much of this comparative city data is incomplete and some years are missing (e.g. there is no data for Chicago for 2007.)

The lack of a national data for fatal police killings is beset by systematic problems and "is a national embarrassment," says Geoffrey Alpert, a criminology professor at the University of South Carolina.

The estimates for people killed by police nationwide vary widely. FBI reports show 1,242 police killings in 2007 to 2012. The Wall Street Journal findings, reported recently, indicate the true number should be higher than 1,800. Including police killings in rural areas and small towns, the total might well be over 3,000, and possibly higher, according to a Wikipedia page on the subject. Real national figures do not exist on this, but local compilations from municipalities, The Wall Street Journal survey and local papers give some idea of what is going on.

The last time data of this kind was compiled was more than 50 years ago in an article in the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology in 1963. In that study, Boston was the safest city and Miami was one of the most deadly.

A possible technical solution to determine police culpability in the shooting of unarmed men would be to conduct a gun powder check to see how far the cop was from the suspect when he fired. If the cop was more than 20 feet away, and the suspect was unarmed with a gun, it seems like a slam dunk case for a murder charge.

The people killed by police are generally not the most upstanding of citizens. They are often deranged with mental problems, drug addicts, drunks, car thieves, shoplifters, vagrants, wife beaters -- punks of all kinds and generally up to no good.

But do they really deserve to die?