Entering into and defusing potentially dangerous situations is a fundamental aspect of police work. In most cases, these situations are without the use of deadly force—but in certain extreme cases, the situation can end in the death of the suspect (or other civilians) at the hands of the police. These cases often spark public concern, particularly in cases in which the police seem to be at fault, and are often highly scrutinized and used to analyze the safety and effectiveness of police procedures and training.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Numbers of Police Killings in the World (most recent annual data):
- Philippines — 6,069+ (avg 2016-2021—includes only deaths during anti-drug operations)
- Brazil — 5,804 (2019)
- Venezuela — 5,287 (2018)
- India — 1,731 (2019)
- Syria — 1,497 (2019)
- El Salvador — 1087 (2017)
- United States — 946 (2020)
- Nigeria — 841 (2018)
- Afghanistan — 606 (2018)
- Pakistan — 495 (2017)
Police shootings in the United States
Police shootings are an issue of great concern and controversy in the United States, which has the highest number of police shootings of any developed country (every other country in the top 10 is a developing country) and the highest rate of private gun ownership in the world. In addition to the sheer number of police shootings, the killings of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, whose killer, George Zimmerman, was acquitted after claiming self-defense; and emergency medical worker Breonna Taylor, who was shot by plainclothes detectives who may have failed to identify themselves as police before breaking down her door, have sparked massive protests and concerns about racial inequality in the U.S. justice system.
Racial concerns are bolstered by data from sources such as the Washington Post police shootings database, which has kept track of police shootings in the United States since 2015. Between 2015 and 2019, U.S. police killed an average of nearly 1,000 people per year. African Americans made up only 13% of the total U.S. population, but accounted for a full 24% of the victims of police shootings. Conversely, whites made up roughly 60% of the population, but only 46% of the deaths from police shootings. The threat of police violence looms larger in some regions than others. Black persons in Oklahoma are six times more likely to be killed by police than those in Georgia. Additionally, eight of the 100 largest police departments in the United States—Reno, NV; Oklahoma City, OK; Santa Ana, CA; Anaheim, CA; St. Louis City, MO; Scottsdale, AZ; Hialeah, FL; and Madison, WI—kill black men at higher rates than the U.S. murder rate.
The specific reasons for the abnormally high number of police shootings in the U.S., as well as their racial disparity, are matters of considerable debate. Also, while the number of police shootings in the U.S. is still abnormally high, it is noteworthy that once that number is evaluated in relation to the total population, the U.S. drops out of the top ten. When compared by the number of police killings per 10 million residents, the U.S. ranks 33rd. While this is an improvement, its number of 28.54 per 10 million residents is nearly double that of the next-highest developed country (Luxembourg, whose population is so small that a single killing gave in a 16.9 score) and nearly three times that of Canada (9.7).
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Rate of Police Killings (per 10 million residents — U.S. ranks 33rd):
- Venezuela — 1829.9 (2018)
- El Salvador — 1703.8 (2017)
- Syria — 819 (2019)
- Philippines — 556.5 (2016-21 avg)
- Nicaragua — 522.7 (2018)
- Jamaica — 472.7 (2018)
- Trinidad and Tobago — 339.7 (2014)
- Brazil — 276.2 (2019)
- Bahamas — 275.7 (2018)
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines — 181.8 (2018)
Countries with the most and fewest police killings per year
Brazil has the highest number of police killings at 6,160, nearly six times that of the United States. Rio de Janeiro, the country’s most violent state and much of which is under the control of drug-trafficking gangs, has the highest number of police killings. Officials claim that most of the police killing victims died in confrontations with police and were armed.
On the other hand, many countries have an extremely low number of police killings. For example, police killings are virtually nonexistent in some European countries. Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland have all reported zero police killings. Perhaps unsurprisingly, all three are among the top ten safest countries in the world. In fact, police in Iceland do not carry firearms—which may help explain why the 2013 police killing of a single civilian was the only such event the country has experienced in its entire history. Additionally, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, and Saint Lucia average one police killing in a year. Of these, Portugal and New Zealand are also considered to be among the ten safest countries in the world.