The rate of serious injuries caused by police and/or security guards appears to have risen nearly 50 percent between 2001 and 2014, according to a new Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health study of emergency room visits at a representative sampling of U.S. hospitals. For men age 15 to 34, the rate of visits for such injuries (98.7 per 100,000) was on par with that of visits for pedestrians injured by motor vehicles (101.1 per 100,000). Black civilians — particularly Black men — were nearly five times more likely to be injured by police than their White counterparts, the study found.
The study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Urban Health, is the first to look at trends in emergency room visits for what lead author Mr. Justin Feldman, a Harvard Chan doctoral student, and his co-authors call “legal intervention injuries” — which refers to non-fatal injuries inflicted by a police officer or security guard.
“The public’s discussion about policing has, up to the present, largely focused on civilian deaths,” said Mr. Feldman. “While it is important to learn about the fatalities, our study shows they represent the tip of the iceberg — in the 15-34 age range alone, roughly 50,000 people are injured by police or security guards each year. We show that there is a much larger population who survive physical, and likely psychological injuries, at the hands of law enforcement, and this has important implications for public health.”
The Harvard Chan researchers are among a growing number of investigators who are analyzing data on injuries and fatalities caused by law enforcement officers as a public health issue. They used data from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which tracks injuries in a nationally representative sample of 66 U.S. hospital emergency departments. Sixty-four percent of the estimated 683,033 injuries logged between 2001-2014 among persons age 15-34 involved a physical interaction with officers. The data did not distinguish between injuries caused by police and private security guards, who the authors said now number nationally about the same as police officers.
“I think the point is not necessarily how much it’s [the rate of non-fatal legal intervention injuries] increased but the fact that it looks like the trend is going up. This is not the kind of thing that you want to see going up,” senior author Dr. Nancy Krieger, professor of social epidemiology in the department of social and behavioral sciences at Harvard Chan, said in a September 9 article about the study in The Guardian.
One limitation of the study is that data on race and ethnicity was missing for many of those who sought treatment in emergency rooms.