The Pandemic Hasn't Slowed Down Fatal Police Shootings in the U.S.

Even with lockdowns and an overall decline in crime, the numbers for first-half 2020 are about the same as they were in 2018 and 2019.
Protesters and police officers clash for the second morning in a row on July 1, 2020 in New York City, US.  (Photo by Selcuk Acar/NurPhoto via AP)

Millions of people in major cities have been placed under lockdown, crime’s been down or flat overall, and some police departments have scaled back a bit, but even with all that in the first half of the year, police in America were shooting people as much as ever, according to a new report from the ACLU.

“The Other Epidemic: Fatal Police Shootings in the Time of COVID-19,” released Wednesday, is based on police shooting data from the Washington Post, with analysis from the University of Nebraska’s Criminology and Criminal Justice department. 


The data, from January to June 30, shows that in these months police in the U.S. killed 511 people, consistent with the numbers in the same period the last two years. In the first six months of 2019 and 2018, there were 484 and 550 police-related deaths, respectively.

“Because of stay-at-home orders, social distancing requirements, and police department policies advising officers to initiate fewer investigative contacts, we might have expected fewer fatal police shootings in 2020 relative to years past,” the study says. Meanwhile, the study notes “most research shows crime has decreased or stayed the same during the pandemic.” 

The report also finds that while most states’ police shooting figures stayed the same in the last five years, Alabama, Alaska, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Montana and Nevada have actually seen an increase during the pandemic, with at least 2.9 shootings per 1 million residents. Nevada, for example, had 16 shootings in 2020 compared to its average of 6.4 in that same period in the last five years. Florida had 46 fatal police shootings in the first half of 2020 compared to an average of 30.2 in previous years.

A breakdown of the 5,442 people killed by police since the start of 2015 shows men and women of color are disproportionately affected. The report says that despite white Americans making up 60% of the population, they make up just 46% of fatal interactions with police. 


Black Americans on the other hand, make up 13% of the U.S. population but account for 24% of fatal police shootings in the U.S. The study also concludes that Black Americans have the same chance of dying from a police encounter, about a 1 in 1,000 chance, regardless of their economic status.

“While police killings are higher in high-poverty areas than low-poverty areas for all racial groups, Black people who live in more affluent areas are almost as likely to be killed by police as white people who live in the poorest areas,” the study says.

Latino communities make up 19% of the U.S. population and 17% of deadly police shootings. Native and Indigenous communities are seeing some of the highest rates of police shootings. Despite making up just 1.3% of the population, they make up 1.4% of the police-related deaths in the last five years. 

“Fatal shootings by police are so routine that even during a national pandemic, with far fewer people traveling outside of their homes and police departments reducing contact with the public so as not to spread the virus, police have continued to fatally shoot people at the same rate so far in 2020 as they did in the same period from 2015 to 2019,” the study concludes. 

There may be some signs of change. Though the report only captures data from the first four weeks following the May 25 killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, figures show the beginning of a steep dropoff in fatalities shortly after Floyd’s death. This coincides with the same period that saw massive protests regarding police brutality kick off all around the world. 

Despite the dropoff, the report says it‘s too early to “draw meaningful conclusions from data over such a brief time period.” Even still, states and cities around the country have been trying to find new ways to reform policing. Efforts include steep budget cuts, the banning of potentially deadly chokeholds, and, in the case of Minneapolis, the outright disbanding of the local department responsible for Floyd’s death.

Cover: Protesters and police officers clash for the second morning in a row on July 1, 2020 in New York City, US. (Photo by Selcuk Acar/NurPhoto via AP)