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Uses of lethal force against Hispanics by law enforcement officers rises

A new study has found that between 2011 and 2020, rates of lethal force have been rising, peaking in 2020, killing over a thousand Hispanics.

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A new study has found that the death rate for Hispanics killed by law enforcement officers in the United States is 1.33 times higher than non-Hispanic Whites.

Published by Springer, the article details statistics of rates of lethal force used by law enforcement officers against Hispanics between 2011 and 2020, with a total of 1,158 recorded cases.

The article gathered mortality data from numerous sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pew Research Center.

“Most research on lethal force usage by law enforcement officers has focused on deaths using firearms and among other racial/ethnic groups, but we did not know much about the nature and extent of the killing of Hispanics,” said Jagdish Khubchandani, co-author of the study, and professor of public health at NMSU.

Nationally, the number of Latinos killed by law enforcement reached .26 per 100,000 residents in 2020, rising from .18 in 2011; the rate of fatal encounters has risen by 44.4% over the past decade, peaking in 2020.

Comparatively, the national Hispanic population has only grown by 18%.

Most were male Hispanics (96.2%), aged 20-39 years of age, who made up approximately two-thirds of those killed (66.9%). Measuring the years of potential life lost, these Hispanic men collectively lost over 50,000 years of life.

This was calculated by measuring the difference between their age when they were killed from their assumed life expectancy of 80.

The highest rate of uses of lethal force were in New Mexico, at a rate of 1.02 per 100,000 residents, more than double than any other state. The second highest rate was Colorado, at 0.49.

“These are preventable causes of death. As a society, we must work with law enforcement officials to reduce these deaths,” Khubchandani said.

This study builds upon another study Khubchandani co-authored in 2021 on fatal police violence by race and state over the past 40 years. This study estimated that over 5,000 Hispanics were killed between 1980 and 2019, with over half of these being misclassified.

“Another major issue is the lack of accurate data, proper classification of deaths, and a comprehensive understanding of the circumstances around these deaths,” Khubchandani said. “There is a need for greater research on fatal violence by law enforcement officers.”

Khubchandani has seen numerous interventions already proposed, though there is a need for further research to measure their effectiveness. 

These interventions include reconsidering the over-policing of diverse communities, non-police frontline responders handling mental health emergencies, and an increase of citizen membership on officer disciplinary boards.

“Public health practitioners and policymakers should help develop and implement policies to curtail the rising tide of deaths among Hispanics due to fatal encounters with law enforcement officers,” Khubchandani concluded.

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