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The shooting death of Philando Castile by police in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, on 7 July pushed the issue of the use of deadly force by police back into national headlines and ignited protests throughout the United States. Data collected by the Washington Post on US police shootings suggests that the use of deadly force is on the rise. So far this year 512 people have been shot and killed by police in the United States. This is a three-percent increase - or, 16 more deaths - than the same period of 2015 and roughly equal to the number of people that have been killed this year in mass shootings in the US. Additional highlights from the data, as feature in the visualizations, include the following:

  • In 55 percent of 2016 cases, police officers were confronted by subjects armed with guns, a slight decrease from 57 percent last year. In 77 percent of these incidents, the subjects fired at police, prompting officers to fire in return to protect themselves or bystanders. Subjects fired on police in 95 percent of incidents in 2015.
  • Other measures are similarly static. As in 2015, 27 percent of those killed so far in 2016 have been black, 51 percent white. Likewise, in 2015 and 2016, mental illness played a role in roughly one-quarter of the incidents. In addition, the share of killings of unarmed people has remained below 10 percent - 6.8 percent in 2016 and 9.4 percent in 2015.
  • One statistic that has notably changed is the share of black women killed in police shootings. While men still represent 95 percent of fatalities, in cases involving female deaths, the share of black women has risen to 35 percent in 2016 from 24 percent in 2015.

The Washington Post began collecting data on shooting deaths by US police in 2014 after the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which rented national attention to police accountability. The Post aims to provide a more comprehensive accounting of incidents in response to the incompleteness and unreliability of data compiled by the FBI and other federal government agencies. The Post’s dataset, however, is not definitive. While the Post database reports 990 people were fatally shot by police in 2015, similar research by the Guardian "The Counted" suggests the figure is as high as 1,146 people.

Looking ahead, increasing use of cameras mounted to patrol cars and worn by police officers in the line of duty promises near-term changes in awareness and prosecution of incidents of abuse of power by police forces. So far this year, 65 police shootings have been recorded using police devices, almost as many incidents as were captured on police cameras in all of 2015. As more incidents have been captured on camera, there has been a corresponding increase in officers facing criminal charges. 

  • According to the Washington Post, seven officers have been criminally charged so far this year, with five of the seven cases involving video evidence. During 2015, 18 officers were criminally charged and 10 cases involved video footage.  
  • Surveillance cameras in the vicinity of crime scenes and witness smartphone camera footage also are contributing to awareness and accountability during these incidents.

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