The US government has no comprehensive record of the number of people killed by law enforcement.
The Counted is a project by The Guardian, counting the number of people killed by police and other law enforcement agencies in the United States throughout 2015 and 2016, to monitor their demographics and to tell the stories of how they died.
The Guardian counts police fatalities through traditional reporting on police reports and witness statements, by monitoring regional news outlets, research groups and open-source reporting projects such as the websites Fatal Encounters and Killed by Police.
The database combines Guardian reporting with verified crowdsourced information and is the most thorough public accounting for deadly use of force in the US and is frequently updated by Guardian reporters and interactive journalists.
In an ongoing investigation into the use of deadly force by police by The Guardian, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15 percent of all deaths logged this year, despite making up only 2 percent of the total U.S. population. Their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age.
Also according to The Guardian, paired with official government mortality data, this new finding indicates that about one in every 65 deaths of a young African American man in the U.S. is a killing by police.
How does the US government count killings by police now?
The FBI runs a voluntary program through which law enforcement agencies may or may not choose to submit their annual count of “justifiable homicides,” which it defines as “the killing of a felon in the line of duty.”
Lacking a baseline in reporting systems, there are wide fluctuations in the number of agencies choosing to report figures. Faulty reporting by agencies that do report has resulted in partially informed news coverage pointing misleadingly to trends that may or may not exist.
Between 2005 and 2012, 1,100 of the 18,000 police departments in the country reported a “justifiable homicide” to the FBI.
The FBI system counted 461 justifiable homicides by law enforcement in 2013, the latest year for which data is available. Crowdsourced counts found almost 300 additional fatalities during that year.
The Counted, upon its launch on June 1, 2015, had already found close to that number of killings in just the first five months of 2015.