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Police clear a park during clashes with protesters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse late Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis., during demonstrations over the Sunday shooting of Jacob Blake. (AP) Police clear a park during clashes with protesters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse late Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis., during demonstrations over the Sunday shooting of Jacob Blake. (AP)

Police clear a park during clashes with protesters outside the Kenosha County Courthouse late Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis., during demonstrations over the Sunday shooting of Jacob Blake. (AP)

Madeline Heim
By Madeline Heim August 27, 2020

Yes, police were 20.8 more likely to kill than be killed by a criminal in 2019

If Your Time is short

  • Statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show that 89 U.S. law enforcement officials were killed on the job in 2019, 48 of them stemming from criminal acts.

  • Also in 2019, police killed 999 Americans, according to a database from the Washington Post. Black Americans were more than twice as likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts

  • If 48 police officers were killed, and 999 deaths occured at the hands of police, that puts Larson’s claim on track.

Widespread condemnation of police brutality has picked up once again after Kenosha police shot Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, seven times at close range as he attempted to get into his SUV late in the afternoon of Aug. 23, 2020. 

As Blake remained at a Milwaukee hospital, where his family’s attorneys say he is paralyzed from the waist down, protests developed in Kenosha and across the state.

Politicians from both sides of the aisle have weighed in, including state Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, who wrote this in an Aug. 24, 2020, Facebook post:

"In 2019, 89 officers died in the line of duty. While every death is tragic, almost half (41) were accidental. That same year, officers shot and killed 999 people. Police are 20.8 times more likely to kill than be killed by a criminal. We must drastically reduce the use of deadly force in this country."

Is he correct that in 2019, police were "20.8 times more likely to kill than be killed by a criminal." 

Is he correct? 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook).

Let’s break down the numbers. 

Police officer deaths vs. deaths caused by police, by the numbers 

To back up his claim, Larson’s office cited statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation on the number of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty during 2019. 

According to those statistics, 89 officers were killed in such incidents last year. Forty-one of those officers were killed accidentally, the FBI says, most often in car accidents. 

That leaves 48 of what the FBI calls "felonious" deaths, which are deaths caused by criminal acts. 

Turning to the number of people killed by police last year, Larson’s office pointed to the Washington Post’s "Fatal Force" database, which since 2015 has been logging fatal shootings by on-duty police officers throughout the U.S. The Post tracks such cases by following local news, law enforcement websites and social media, submitting open records requests and verifying incidents with the police department in question. 

In 2019, 999 people were shot and killed by police, according to the database

In his Facebook post, Larson does the math: If criminal acts led to 48 officer deaths in 2019, and officers killed 999 people in the same year, that would make police approximately 20.8 times more likely to kill someone than be killed in a criminal act.

The Post database breaks down another important data point: Black Americans are more likely to be shot and killed by police than white Americans. Black people account for less than 13% of the U.S. population but are killed by police at more than double the rate of white people 

Black people are killed by police at a rate of 32 deaths per million people, Hispanic people at a rate of 24 per million, and white people at a rate of 13 per million, according to the database. 

Our rating 

Larson said police are "20.8 times more likely to kill than be killed by a criminal." 

FBI statistics and a national database show that checks out: In 2019, police killed 999 people, and 48 officers were killed by a criminal act in the line of duty.

We rate Larson’s claim True. 

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Madeline Heim

Yes, police were 20.8 more likely to kill than be killed by a criminal in 2019

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