Police Killings in Rural America?

In the aftermath of the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, it’s clear all of America needs to be deeply concerned about the use of deadly force by law enforcement. Surprisingly, rural and small town America may need to worry most. A recent story in FiveThirtyEight delivers a number of worrisome statistics about the increasing number of police killings in our communities.

FiveThirtyEight, Police are Killing Fewer People in Big Cities, But More in Suburban and Rural America, June 1, 2020

According to FiveThirtyEight, while there’s been a decrease in the number of people killed in the 30 most populous cities in the country, police killings in more suburban and rural areas have increased. Additionally, information from the FBI Crime Report shows that “departments that reported larger reductions in arrests from 2013 – 2018 also reported larger reductions in police shootings.”

And notably, the Vera Institute of Justice found that jail incarceration rates have been increasing in rural jurisdictions, while they’ve been declining in urban areas. Since incarceration is expensive and can be an impediment to rehabilitation, this is a data point worth keeping in mind.

Rural and small towns pride themselves on being safe spaces to live and raise families. In the aftermath of the most recent police killings, those of us living in rural and small towns might want to pay attention to law enforcement in our backyards. We often know our police personally, we also know they have super-tough jobs and most want to do them well. Ensuring that taxpayer dollars are spent effectively and all rural residents are justly protected by law enforcement should be a goal that, if met, will only serve us well.