Homicides by Police: Comparing Counts From the National Violent Death Reporting System, Vital Statistics, and Supplementary Homicide Reports

Am J Public Health. 2016 May;106(5):922-7. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2016.303074. Epub 2016 Mar 17.


Objective: To evaluate the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) as a surveillance system for homicides by law enforcement officers.

Methods: We assessed sensitivity and positive predictive value of the NVDRS "type of death" variable against our study count of homicides by police, which we derived from NVDRS coded and narrative data for states participating in NVDRS 2005 to 2012. We compared state counts of police homicides from NVDRS, Vital Statistics, and Federal Bureau of Investigation Supplementary Homicide Reports.

Results: We identified 1552 police homicides in the 16 states. Positive predictive value and sensitivity of the NVDRS "type of death" variable for police homicides were high (98% and 90%, respectively). Counts from Vital Statistics and Supplementary Homicide Reports were 58% and 48%, respectively, of our study total; gaps varied widely by state. The annual rate of police homicide (0.24/100,000) varied 5-fold by state and 8-fold by race/ethnicity.

Conclusions: NVDRS provides more complete data on police homicides than do existing systems.

Policy implications: Expanding NVDRS to all 50 states and making 2 improvements we identify will be an efficient way to provide the nation with more accurate, detailed data on homicides by law enforcement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Homicide / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Police / statistics & numerical data*
  • Population Surveillance / methods*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Violence / statistics & numerical data
  • Vital Statistics