An estimated 55,400 people were injured as a result of legal police interventions in the U.S. in 2012, a study found.
Those interventions accounted for less than half a percent of all arrests that year, data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) suggest.
Still, 2 percent of those injured by police died, 5 percent required hospitalization, and the other 93 percent were treated in the emergency department and released, according to a report in Injury Prevention.
“On a typical day, three people die in this country and 150 are injured during incidents involving police,” Dr. Ted Miller from Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation in Calverton, Maryland told Reuters Health by email.
Blacks and youths sustained more injuries at the hands of police - but only because they were more likely to be stopped by police.
That year, according to the website of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, law enforcement made an estimated 12.2 million arrests, including more than half a million for violent crimes.
Miller and colleagues pooled information from several nationwide databases to estimate nonfatal injuries resulting from legal police interventions.
An estimated 1 in every 291 stops or arrests resulted in a death or medically treated injury, and this rate did not differ significantly between racial or ethnic groups, according to the researchers.
Miller had expected higher rates of death and injury during stops or arrests of minorities. “But it turns out, the probability you will be killed or seriously injured if (you are) stopped/arrested by the police is not affected by your race/ethnicity,” he said.
Arrest rates, however, differed substantially, ranging from only 153 arrests per 10,000 for Asians or Pacific Islanders and 355 for whites to 804 for Hispanics and 1187 for blacks.
People injured during legal interventions were much less likely to be hospitalized than people injured in assaults, suggesting “that police are not typically out of control when they injure someone (although undoubtedly, they sometimes are, which is inappropriate),” Miller said.
The study relied on medical records that may not capture information about police involvement.
Still, Miller said, “Our findings clearly show that the way to reduce racial biases in injury, and injury in general, during stops/arrests is to reduce the need for police stops and arrests, as well as making stops less confrontational.”
“Police need de-escalation training and the public conceivably might benefit from ‘the talk’ about how to behave if you are stopped by the police," he said. "We need to move toward more community-oriented policing and need to demonstrate, evaluate, and replicate interventions that reduce the toll.”
Dr. Rodney D. Green of Howard University Center for Urban Progress in Washington, DC, told Reuters Health, "The study confirms that police stops are racially discriminatory. Police stops are not peaceful and de-escalating. They begin forcefully and their force escalates, leading to unnecessary deaths, especially of African Americans.”
“The number, lethality, and diversity of weapons used to subdue, harm, and/or kill those accosted by the police need to be more fully documented and reported,” he added. “The goal of such reporting would be to reduce the ability of the police to so easily harm or kill those they detain, by depriving them of such firepower.”
Green calls for a "massive popular campaign . . . to drive home the point that police should be ‘peace officers,’ not a military force or an army of occupation."
Dr. Hannah L. F. Cooper from Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who recently addressed police violence as a public health issue, told Reuters Health it's important to "expand the national dialogue beyond death."
"Non-fatal injuries are also vital to the conversation and are much more common,” she said.
“Better surveillance of police-related injuries is needed,” she added. “There is a movement called ‘White Coats for Black Lives’ – MDs could consider learning more about that movement and perhaps participating.”