With the unrest in Baltimore making headline news in recent days, I wanted to take a look at some background information on deaths in Maryland that are related to encounters with the state's various police forces. A recent briefing paper by the ACLU looks at the statistics on deaths in police encounters in Maryland between 2010 and 2014. Here are some of the highlights.
Let's open with this table showing the demographics of Maryland showing the ethnic and racial breakdown of the state:
Now, let's look at some of the statistics from the briefing paper:
1.) At least 109 people died in police encounters in Maryland over the years between 2010 and 2014. During the same time period, four police officers died in civilian encounters including two in vehicle pursuits, one was shot in a raid and one was shot when off-duty and working as a security guard.
As shown on this chart, these deaths were scattered widely throughout the state:
2.) The age range of those that died ranged from 15 to 78 with an average age of 35 years. Nearly one-third of those who died were 25 years of age or younger.
3.) Of those who died in a police encounter, 75 were black (69 percent of the total), 30 were white and three were identified as Hispanic. To put the number of blacks killed into perspective, blacks make up 28 percent of Maryland's total population. When the racial composition is normalized, the rate at which blacks died per population size was five times that of whites.
4.) Of those who died, 86 people or 79 percent were killed by police gunfire. Of those, 22 or 26 percent had no weapon of any kind.
5.) Of those who died, 23 people or 21 percent were not shot by police. In those cases, police used handcuffs or other restraints, tasers or pepper spray.
6.) Of those who died, 45 were not armed with a weapon of any kind, 38 had a gun, 11 had a knife, 8 had an airgun or fake gun and 7 had an object that was defined by police as a weapon, including a pen.
7.) Of those who died, 41 people or 38 percent were presented in a way that suggested either a medical or psychological health issue or that they were suffering from the use of an illicit substance. Their behavior was often characterized as bizarre or erratic.
8.) In one case, a 26-year old white male with Down's Syndrome died as a result of "asphyxiation by homicide" on January 12, 2013 when off-duty sheriff's officers moonlighting as mall security guards attacked him because he didn't buy another $12.00 movie ticket so that he could watch "Zero Dark Thirty" for a second time. The case went to a grand jury which declined to indict the three officers involved. As well, the Frederick County police investigated themselves and found that they were not guilty of any wrongdoing.
Out of all 109 cases over the five year period, there were only two cases where a Maryland police officer faced criminal charges relating to the death of a civilian. In both cases, the office was off-duty. One officer was convicted and the other officer, charged in the choking death of a 17 year old boy in July 2012, was acquitted.
The data from this briefing paper shows us that civilian deaths during interactions with police in Maryland are not isolated events; over the past five years alone, an average of just under 22 civilians have died every year after an encounter with one of Maryland's police forces. For a state with a population of just under 6 million people with its largest urban area that has only 622,000 people, that's a lot of civilian deaths at the hands of the police.