Exceptionally Lethal: American Police Killings in a Comparative Perspective

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7 Scopus citations


Police in the United States stand out in the developed world for their reliance on deadly force. Other nations in the Americas, however, feature higher or similar levels of fatal police violence (FPV). Cross-national comparative analyses can help identify stable and malleable factors that distinguish high-FPV from low-FPV countries. Two factors that clearly stand out among high-FPV nations are elevated rates of gun violence mdash which fosters a preoccupation with danger and wide latitude to use preemptive force mdash and ethnoracial inequality and discord. The latter seems to be tied to another fundamental difference between the United States and most other developed nations mdash the quot radically decentralized structure of U.S. policing quot (Bayley amp Stenning 2016). Hyperlocalism limits the influence of external oversight, along with expertise and resources for effective training, policy implementation, and accountability. However, elevated rates of FPV among some Latin American countries with relatively centralized policing demonstrate that decentralization is not a necessary condition for high FPV. Likewise, relatively low FPV in Spain and Chile suggests that achieving low FPV is also possible without the extensive resources and training that appear to suppress FPV in wealthy Northern European nations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)471-498
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Review of Criminology
StatePublished - Jan 27 2023
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Law


  • American exceptionalism
  • comparative policing
  • deadly force
  • decentralized policing
  • police accountability
  • police killings


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