The lack of accurate, real-time reporting of police killings in the US is causing what constitutes a public health issue, according to researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
In a report published in PLOS Medicine this month, researchers argue that because police killings affect more than just the deceased, data on these deaths should be released immediately as public information. The deceased’s family, as well as his or her community, is affected by civil unrest that often transpires when mortal shootings are not immediately publicly reported, such as in the April case of Freddie Gray, a man who died in custody of the police in Baltimore.
Unrest that occurred in response to Gray’s death, before the police responsible for it were charged with manslaughter and assault, led to “immediate and long-term public-health harms,” the report states, such as drugstore break-ins, mental-health trauma, and damage to economically stressed neighborhoods that resulted in the loss of income and jobs for many in the community.
“Therefore, law-enforcement–related deaths are public-health data, not solely criminal-justice data,” the report says. The researchers suggest that such deaths be considered “a Notifiable Condition,” which would put police deaths in the public realm, much as deaths caused by cancer and lead poisoning are recorded in public registries.