News Release

CDC Acknowledges Police Killings in Mortality Report


In the newest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention summarize data from the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS). In it, the CDC goes further than the agency ever has before in its discussion of police killings, which are part of a wider category of deaths classified as legal intervention deaths.

    Feldman is a Visiting Scientist at the Harvard FXB Center.

In the NVDRS, CDC authors write in considerably more detail about police killings than they have in the past, pointing to the data on racial and ethnic inequities in fatal police shootings and encouraging further analyses to “increase knowledge about the magnitude and circumstances of these deaths and for developing appropriate prevention strategies and monitoring their effectiveness.”

Feldman told the Institute for Public Accuracy that this acknowledgment is a positive step for CDC. Though the legal intervention category has always been included in NVDRS, “CDC hasn’t talked about it. It may be reported in tables, but never before have they discussed it, let alone proposed improving reporting.” 

The report states that more research needs to be done to “increase the completeness of demographic information on officers involved in these deaths.” But Feldman says CDC’s policy focus on officer demographics falls short. Demographics “don’t matter much,” he said. Instead, he urges CDC to acknowledge that the NVDRS “leaves out many deaths [that happen] in custody” because of the “arbitrary manner of death classifications.” Determinations for non-firearm police killings, for instance, are “arbitrary… If someone dies in one county due to a chokehold or prone restraint by police, that medical examiner may call [the manner of death] undetermined, or a homicide. Five miles away, another might call it accidental.” If a death is classified as accidental, it never reaches NVDRS’s desk. “If the death is classified as accidental non-firearm, it will never even be considered for inclusion.”

Instead of conducting more research on officer demographics, “let’s focus on actually making the data [on police killings] available and collecting it better,” Feldman says. “That’s what I would urge––fixing the manner-of-death issue.”