Do The Benefits Of Policing Outweigh The Costs?

man wearing police uniform
Zain Murdock
May 1, 2024

Between 1980 and 2018, police killed over 30,000 people in the U.S. Government data underreported 60% of Black deaths. Now, independent researchers are tracking the killings. We know policing infests our communities with surveillance, mass incarceration, sexual violence, and more. With new data, we know cops take over 1,000 lives a year. We don’t know this: How many lives do cops save?

There’s no approximate number, though metrics exist for medicine, firefighting, and other government jobs. But the dominant argument is that we need police, even though they kill us—because they save lives.

But cops aren’t constitutionally required to protect people outside their custody. There’s little evidence they stop crime. Crime statistics are frequently distorted and can’t account for root causes. Cities also lose substantial dollars to police misconduct lawsuits, inflated budgets, and mass incarceration—when we could have community programs, healthcare, and housing.

Still, let’s say cops killed 1,000 lives yearly and saved 5,000. Would policing be worth it, then?  How many deaths and rescues would be appropriate?

Instead of rationalizing rampant police killings, we could develop alternatives specific to our needs, create transparent metrics to assess them, and reimagine safety and crime. Policing is a deadly experiment that raises countless unanswered questions. But if we don’t know or aren’t satisfied with the answers, why not build something new?