Thursday, March 19, 2015

Lethal Acts of Force in 2014 - 5. Where Did They Occur?

(Part 1 - intro)  | (Part 2 - numbers) | (Part 3 - cops) | (Part 4 - definition)

The question of where lethal acts of force can be broken down into the highly localized (neighborhood, zip code) and by the highly generalized (states, regions).

By zoning

I tried to determine the exact setting that the decedent had been standing in or on when he or she was killed.  I divided these into five categories.

  •        Streets – All public streets, highways, alleys, sidewalks and right-of-way.
  •        Other type of public land – parks, mass transit, public buildings, courthouses, schools, universities, etc.
  •        Private land – residential land (houses, apartments, condominiums, etc.) or agricultural land (in rural areas, the distinction between land zoned for housing and land zoned for agriculture gets blurred); or the parking lots and driveways on parcels of land used for such purpose
  •        Commercial or industrial land – land used for businesses, shops, places of work, factories, etc. Includes hotels and parking lots used for businesses.
  •        Religious land – Churches, temples, synagogues, etc., and the parking lots that serve them.


A plurality of incidents took place on private land, usually residential. 

The San Diego County District Attorney’s Office found that 130 of 358 shooting incidents that occurred between 1993 and 2012 happened on a street, by far the largest number in any zoning category they analyzed.[1] This amounts to 36%.  Also a combined 121 incidents occurred inside a residence, on the grounds of a residential complex, in a yard, in a driveway, or in a garage or shed, which adds up to 34%.  San Diego County’s analysis lumped all parking lots together. They found 43 incidents (12%) occurred in parking lots.

By zip code

The deadliest zip code in America was not located in New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, but rather in Fresno, California.  Five police lethal acts of force occurred in zip code 93706.
Of the 12 zip codes with 3 or more police lethal acts of force, 4 of them were in California, and two of them were in Albuquerque.

Zip code
No. of lethal acts of force
93706 – Fresno, CA
93905 – Salinas, CA
30044 – Lawrenceville, GA
32210 – Jacksonville, FL
43207 – Columbus, OH
60632 – Chicago, IL
85051 – Phoenix, IL
87121 – Albuquerque, NM
87123 – Albuquerque, NM
90003 – Los Angeles, CA
95209 – Stockton, CA
99301 – Pasco, WA
*The three lethal acts of force in zip code 95209 stemmed from the same incident, where police shot and killed two bank robbers armed with AK-47s in a getaway car, but in the process accidently shot and killed one of the bank robbers’ hostages. 

Using American Community Survey U.S. Census data from 2006-2010, the University of Michigan Population Studies Center calculated the median annual income for each zip code in America.[2] I used this dataset to find the median income of the zip codes in which people were killed by police. 

The median income in the United States in 2010 was $49,445, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  According to the University of Michigan data, the average of the median incomes for the 32,634 zip codes in the U.S. was $50,938. I found that the average median income of the zip code in which the decedent was standing before being killed by police officers in 2014 was $47,563. On average, decedents stood on land in slightly poorer zip codes than the population as a whole. 

This income effect is more noticeable when the median income numbers are broken down into tranches. 

The percentage of lethal acts of police force outpaces the percent of population for zip codes with median incomes less than $50,000.  This effect is starker when the number of tranches is reduced to 2: those areas with median incomes above $50,000 and those with median incomes below $50,000.

A slight majority of residents in the U.S. live in zip codes with median annual incomes above $50,000.  But only a third of the lethal acts of police force occurred in these zip codes. 

It is a tenuous leap from a zip code’s median income to a decedent’s income, but since people were very often killed by police in or near places where they lived, the data suggests that poorer people get killed by police more frequently than richer people.      

By state

Every state in the nation had at least one lethal act of force in 2014.

California, Texas and Florida led the nation in number of people killed by police in 2014.  I found 165 lethal acts of force in California, 101 in Texas, and 81 in Florida.

Of course, these states also lead the nation in population, so this isn’t too surprising. A more informative measure is the rate of death.

New Mexico led the nation in terms of death rate by police officers in 2014.

The rate of death for the entire United States found in this analysis was 3.14 deaths per million per year.  28 states and the District of Columbia experienced rates higher than this in 2014.  The average is kept low by the high-population states of the northeast, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts in particular.  The four lowest rates in the nation came from four of the six states that comprise New England.  The one weird exception was Maine, where six lethal acts of force occurred, more than happened in Massachusetts despite having five million fewer people than the Bay State.

By police force

The Los Angeles Police Department, the third largest police department after New York and Chicago, killed more people than any other local or municipal police department in 2014.

On a per million resident basis though, the Oklahoma City Police Department was the most deadly of the police departments in the 55 largest cities in America, killing 14.7 people per million residents.

The asterisks are for police departments that also serve surrounding cities and unincorporated areas. Only in Las Vegas’s case would this affect the numbers, as one of the eight people killed by Las Vegas Metropolitan PD was based on an officer responding to a call in Laughlin. 

But this gets at one of the problems with just looking at the police killings within the city limits: people from adjoining cities maintain close economic ties and close demographic ties with the big city.  If there is something about culture, economics, crime rate, etc., that affects the rate at which police officers kill citizens, the effect should also be found in adjoining localities. This is why I also looked at the number of lethal acts of force within metropolitan statistical areas.

By metropolitan statistical area

Metropolitan statistical areas are defined by the Census Bureau and generally must have more than 100,000 residents.  They follow county line boundaries, meaning large chunks of rural areas fall within the boundaries of metropolitan statistical areas, and the areas can stretch for hundreds of miles away from the city in the western U.S., where counties are large.  Still, by focusing on metropolitan statistical areas, one can choose any number of statistical measures published by the US Census Bureau and figure out a correlation between lethal acts of police force and whatever statistical measure one chooses. 

I found lethal acts of force occurred roughly proportional to the size of the metro areas, on a nationwide basis. 

This finding surprised me. I had two hypotheses. One was that I would find that big city police forces kill at a higher rate than the rest due to their tendency to have large concentrations of violent crime and police officers who may be lacking in empathy. That wasn’t the case. Police in giant metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) accounted for only 21% of the lethal acts of force, though giant MSAs make up 25% of America.  My other hypothesis was that I would capture a lot of rural incidents due possibly to less well-trained and more gun-crazed crooked county sheriff’s offices.  That also wasn’t the case. Only 15% of incidents came from areas not in any MSA, which make up 16% of the population of the United States.

There were large differences among MSAs though. 

There are 52 metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. with populations over one million.  The Los Angeles metro area experienced 53 incidents of people being killed by police in 2014, the most in the nation, and almost double the number from the 2nd place MSA (both Phoenix and Chicago had 28 people die from lethal acts of force; New York was 4th with 25 and Houston 5th with 24). But it was Oklahoma City that topped the list on a per million basis.

Though the spotlight was on the New York Police Department in 2014 over the killing of Eric Garner, the New York metro area had one of the lowest rates of police killings in the country, at only 1.3 per million residents.  The Raleigh-Cary Metropolitan Statistical Area was the largest MSA not to suffer a single police killing in 2014 (1.2 million residents, according to 2013 census estimates). 

Oklahoma City may have killed nearly 10 people per million residents, triple the national average, but that city was not the highest on the list of MSAs with over 500,000. The most police-caused deaths from that list of cities was my hometown, Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Police in the Albuquerque metro area killed people at a rate three-and-a-half times the national rate of 3.14 per million. 

Cities like Fresno, Stockton, Tulsa and Wichita pop up on this list, all with shockingly large quantities of police killings.

But the MSA with the highest rate overall was tiny Yuba City, California.  Its 168,000 residents were killed by police at a rate of 23.7 deaths per million residents.  4 people were killed by police in the Yuba City area in 2014, the same number that were killed by police in the entire Boston metro area, which has 4.7 million people. 

The following chart shows all the small city MSAs that had three or more people killed by police in 2014.

The Los Angeles metro area and the New York metro diverged significantly in the rate at which people were killed by police. 

Of the nine metro areas in the United States with populations greater than 5 million, New York’s metro area of 20 million people accounts for a quarter of the population of that list of nine, while Los Angeles’s metro area of 13 million people accounts for 17%.  But in terms of police killings in 2014, it was the exact opposite. 

[1] “Officer-Involved Shooting Review: Analysis of Cases Reviewed by the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office 1993-2012”. San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, December 2014.

[2] “Zip Code Characteristics: Mean and Median Household Income”. Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan.