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US police shootings ‘grossly underreported’

A Washington Post study found that during the first five months of 2015, 385 people were killed by police

Police in the United States have killed almost 400 people nationwide in 2015, The Washington Post reported in its Sunday edition, using its own tally for lack of complete federal statistics.

The newspaper reported that at least 385 people have been shot and killed by U.S. police during the first five months of the year, a rate of more than two a day.

According to its report, the figures are twice as high as the rate of fatal police shootings tallied by the federal government over the past decade.

“These shootings are grossly under-­reported,” Jim Bueermann, a former police chief and president of the Washington-based Police Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving law enforcement, told the Washington Post.

“We are never going to reduce the number of police shootings, if we don’t begin to accurately track this information.”

As the national debate continues after deaths in Ferguson, Missouri, New York, South Carolina, and in Baltimore on the use of deadly force by police often against young men of color, a number of publications have reported on the lack of comprehensive national data on police killings.

Police are authorized to use deadly force only when they fear for their lives or the lives of others. So far, just three of the 385 fatal shootings have resulted in an officer being charged with a crime — less than 1 percent.

According to the report, many law officials say many shootings are preventable while some others claim they are unavoidable.

The Post looked at shootings specifically, and not killing by other means, such as stun guns and deaths in police custody.

Through interviews, police reports and local news accounts, the Post tracked its details.

According to the report, half the victims were white. But among unarmed victims, two-thirds were black or Hispanic.

Overall, blacks were killed at three times the rate of whites or other minorities when adjusting by the population of the census tracts where the shootings occurred. Twenty of the victims were women, and 365 victims were men.

The Post found that 49 people had no weapons. In 13 cases, the gun carried by the victims turned out to a toy. In total 16% were either carrying a toy or were unarmed.

The victims victims ranged in age from 16 to 83 years old, and eight were younger than 18. Many victims were killed while fleeing from the police, the Post's report shows the figure at 20% - and were unarmed.

Ninety-two victims — or almost a quarter of those killed — were identified as mentally ill by family members or police.

The Post also found that although race “was a dividing line, those who died by police gunfire often had much in common. Most were poor and had a history of run-ins with law enforcement over mostly small-time crimes, sometimes because they were emotionally troubled.”

Al Jazeera with wire services

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