Thousands of people around the world are killed by law enforcement, both on- and off-duty. Police officers in the United States shoot and kill hundreds of people every year, which is far more than comparable developed countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom, and Japan.
In the United States, police shootings have sparked protests across the country, such as that of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed, 17-year-old African-American student who was shot and killed in 2012. His killer, George Zimmerman, was a neighborhood watch coordinator of a gated community where Trayvon was visiting relatives. Zimmerman was acquitted at trial for Trayvon’s death, claiming self-defense. A Change.org petition calling for Zimmerman’s arrest collected over 2.2 million signatures, the largest petition in the website’s history.
The Washington Post has kept track of police shootings in the United States since 2015. Between 2015 and 2018, U.S. police have killed 3,309 people. In 2019, U.S. police killed 1,099 people, 24% of whom were black.
Location matters when it comes to police killings, both in U.S. states and around the world. 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 kill black men at higher rates than the U.S. murder rate. These departments are Reno, Oklahoma City, Santa Ana, Anaheim, St. Louis City, Scottsdale, Hialeah, and Madison.
The United States, however, does not have the highest number of police killings or the highest rate of police killings per 10 million people. The United States has the fifth-highest number of police killings and the 30th-highest rate of police killings per 10 million people.
The following countries have the highest numbers of police killings in the world, based on the most recent data available:
- Brazil – 6,160
- Venezuela – 5,287
- Philippines – 3,451
- Syria – 1,497
- United States – 1,099
- Nigeria – 841
- El Salvador - 609
- Afghanistan – 606
- Pakistan – 495
- Bangladesh 466
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 are those who died in confrontations with police and were armed.
The countries with the highest rates of police killings per 10 million people are:
- Venezuela – 1632.70
- El Salvador – 954.5
- Syria – 831.6
- Nicaragua – 522.7
- Jamaica – 472.7
- Trinidad and Tobago – 339.7
- Philippines – 322.5
- Brazil – 293.2
- Bahamas – 275.7
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – 181.8
Police killings are much less common or virtually nonexistent in some European countries. Denmark, Iceland, and Switzerland have all reported zero police killings. Both Denmark and Iceland are among the top ten safest countries in the world. Additionally, police in Iceland do not carry firearms.
Other countries have very low numbers as well. Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Malta, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, and Saint Lucia all have one police killing in a year. Of these, Portugal and New Zealand are considered to be among the ten safest countries in the world as well.