Police brutality – Unique to the USA?

It has been impossible to ignore the cases of severe police brutality from departments all over the USA. Any reasonable person would wonder, after reading about this for the second, third, or even fourth time in the same year, why US police departments do not learn from previous examples. After all, how hard can it be?

In all its simplicity, it shouldn’t be all that hard. Whenever a case surfaces, a bulletin goes out to state-level administration. From there, all police departments in the state are informed about the event. Simultaneously, legal actions are taken against the perpetrators (police officers). Starting with administrative leave, and escalating to criminal charges if the investigation supports these. The state informs the US administration Attorney General’s office from where legislation can be revised if this seems required. How hard can it be?

Still, one event follows the other, and just when you think the message has come across, new events follow. Apparently, it is harder than at least I would think. Why?

Scary data is made visual on this site for US police brutality. It demonstrates not only the numbers but also important data behind them, such as number of convicted officers after a shooting, the number of officers involved in multiple shootings, non-violent offenses ending in the death of the suspect, and the list goes on and on. Reviewing only the numbers on the site shows clearly that things are seriously wrong.

Some of the recent lethal police cases:

  • George Floyd
  • Tyre Nichols
  • Breonna Taylor
  • Daunte Wright
  • Andre Hill
  • Manuel Ellis
  • so many more

Let’s not forget black people killed by civilians for no apparent reason. I intend to write a separate column on this later.

Men of color?

Yes, men of color are heavily overrepresented as victims of lethal police violence. Strangely enough, this discriminative behavior is not restricted to white police officers, even African American police officers are among those guilty of excessive and lethal police violence toward men of color.

This is certainly something that needs to be addressed during education, but more so in society, family life, and upbringing.

Some global stats:

Lethal police force per country (relative to population) in 2022:

  • US (2022): 1192 (3.5 per million)
  • Netherlands (2020): 13 (0.7 per million)
  • Zweden (2013-2018): 3 (0.3 per million)

This leaves the US with a five to ten times higher number of police force fatalities per year.

How to become a sheriff’s deputy or a police officer:

One would think, and hope, that in order to become (and remain to be) a police officer there would be a long list of things to comply to:

  • No criminal record
  • Irreproachable behavior
  • A solid college education
  • Regular training in law, behavior, and weapons-related issues

Let’s compare the education for the countries mentioned earlier:

  • US (Texas, other states probably differ from this):
    • four to six weeks of training
    • or sixty hours of college
    • or honorable discharge from the armed forces
  • Netherlands: two to four years of college
  • Sweden: at least two and a half years of college-level education

Note the duration of the education, weeks in the US versus years in other countries.

Is this new?

Good point! And no, it’s definitely not new.

We can safely assume that the requirements to become a police officer were even less earlier last century, and probably non-existent before that. In these times, segregation and discriminative legislation justified violent actions taken against whoever would not comply with a police officer or deputy. Some of the excesses:

  • Segregation under Jim Crow laws
  • Civil Rights movement

But it not being something new in US society, it is even more astonishing that deadly police violence still exists to this grade today! While I can think the numbers for Sweden and the Netherlands could be better, I stand in awe at the US numbers and their consistency. Why do they not go down to what we for convenience’s sake might call acceptable numbers?

Clearly, the sequence sketched by me in the first paragraphs of this page is not implemented, nor is anything close to it.

What differs?

To me, there seem to be two factors that contribute to the bad US statistics above:

  1. Education of police officers
  2. Availability of firearms amongst the population

While there seems to be no general opinion to change the latter, the second amendment remains holy, untouchable, and open to individual interpretation, the former has every potential to be improved upon. Why isn’t it?


No, lethal police violence is not unique to the USA. But it cannot be ignored that the USA excesses in lethal police violence, and that needs to be addressed. Education seems to be the means to improve on the bas statistics on this point. The numbers will probably never be zero, but if numbers more in line with European countries can be achieved, great progress will have been made.

With lethal police violence in the US regularly in the headlines of international news, it seems that the US administration might for once state that enough is enough and call for legislation or executive orders to reduce more police brutality. To date, no such efforts have been made.


January 2023