CPE Announces the Publication of a New Analysis of the Classification of Deaths Caused by Police Use of Force

June 13 2024

The Center for Policing Equity (CPE) announces the publication of a new study, Mortality Classification for Deaths that Follow the Use of Non-Firearm Force by Police: A National Cross-Sectional Study (United States, 2012-2021), by CPE Principal Research Scientist Justin Feldman with co-authors Dr. Tracey Lloyd Senior Vice President, Science & Technology, and Dr. Phillip Atiba Solomon Co-founder and CEO of CPE. 

The study was conducted in order to understand better how coroners and medical examiners categorize deaths in police custody that follow chokeholds, taser use, physical restraint, and other non-firearm force. Researchers looked specifically at (1) how often such death investigations were classified by investigators as homicides vs. accidental and (2) how often cause-of-death statements mentioned that use-of-force was involved.

Key findings include:

  • The National Association of Medical Examiners suggests classifying deaths from police subdual and restraint as homicide, yet only 29% of deaths during the 10-year span examined were classified as homicide.
  • Only 43% of cause-of-death statements obtained mentioned any use of force, and only 17% mentioned a specific force-related injury or condition such as asphyxia or blunt-force trauma.
  • Coroners, who are typically elected officials without medical training, and sheriff-coroners, or law enforcement officials who serve as death investigators, were least likely to categorize in-custody deaths as homicides, Medical examiners, who are appointed physicians, were most likely.
  • Local politics play a role. When the lethal incidents occurred in highly Republican counties, they were less likely to be declared homicides, and their cause statements were least likely to mention any police use of force.

Learn more about this analysis and the accompanying fact sheet on CPE’s website.