A timely investigation by the Wall Street Journal opens with a sobering conclusion: "It is nearly impossible to determine how many people are killed by the police each year." That after the paper zeroed in on America's 105 biggest police departments, which handed over internal data on killings from 2007 to 2012. That data was compared to the national count kept by the FBI. What the Journal found: a major underreporting issue. More than 550 police killings were "missing from the national tally." Though the departments logged 1,825 police killings, the FBI's count of justifiable homicides within those departments' jurisdictions was 1,242; that's a 47% difference. Nearly all police killings are determined to be justifiable.
Local law-enforcement agencies aren't forced to funnel data to the FBI's reporting program; of those that do, some don't report homicides in the manner the FBI requires for its tracking. Of the 105 departments reviewed, 35 reported no justifiable homicides during the period in question. One department's reasoning: The Fairfax County Police Department in Virginia told the Journal it didn't think of those cases as an "actual offense" worthy of reporting. The full breadth of the underreporting to the FBI is essentially impossible to determine, notes the Journal, which found that most of America's 18,000 law-enforcement agencies reported no killings by police to the FBI during the period reviewed. For instance, Florida's killings haven't been part of the FBI count since 1996; a rep says outdated software prevents it from reporting its numbers. Full investigation here. (Read more police stories.)