Number of Police Officers Killed Declines in Same Period as Decline in Use of Death Penalty

According to a new report from the FBI, the number of police officers killed in the line of duty declined in 2005 compared with 2004, and was 22% less than the number killed in 2001.  Fifty-five law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in 2005, 57 in 2004, and 70 in 2001.  The South had the largest number of police officers killed, almost three times more than any of the other regions in the country.  Twenty-eight officers were killed in the South, 10 in the Midwest, 10 in the West, and 5 in the Northeast.
(Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed and Assaulted 2005, U.S. Dept. of Justice, Oct. 30, 2006).  DPIC note: during this same period of time (2001-05), there has been a decline in the number of death sentences, executions, and size of death row.  The South, the region with the most police officers killed, is responsible for about 80% of the executions in the country since 1976.  The Northeast, the region with the fewest police officers killed, has had less than 1% of the country's executions.  See Deterrence and DPIC's report, On the Front Line.

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RESOURCES: New FBI Report Shows U.S. Murder Rate Unchanged Over 5 Years

The FBI recently released the latest version of its Uniform Crime Reports: Crime in the United States 2005. The report showed that the murder rate in 2005 (5.6 murders per 100,000 people) was the same as in 2001, with little change in the intervening years. Death sentences, executions and the size of death row all declined during this period.

As in previous years, the South had the higherst murder rate, 6.6, among the 4 geographical regions. Over 80% of the executions in the country have occurred in the South since the death penalty was reinstated. The Northeast had the lowest murder rate, 4.4. Less than 1% of the executions in the country have occurred in the Northeast.

The state with the largest increase in its murder rate was Alabama, where the murder rate increased 46%. The state with the largest decrease in its murder rate was Vermont, a non-death penalty state, where the rate decreased by 51%.

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Researchers Find Flaws in Studies Claiming Deterrent Effect

In an article entitled The Death Penalty: No Evidence for Deterrence, John Donnohue and Justin Wolfers examined recent statistical studies that claimed to show a deterrent effect from the death penalty.  The authors conclude that the estimates claiming that the death penalty saves numerous lives "are simply not credible."   In fact, the authors state that using the same data and proper methodology could lead to the exact opposite conclusion: that is, that the death penalty actually increases the number of murders.  The authors state: "We show that with the most minor tweaking of the [research] instruments, one can get estimates ranging from 429 lives saved per execution to 86 lives lost. These numbers are outside the bounds of credibility."

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New York Conference to Address Aspects of Punishment in the U.S.

The New School in New York City is sponsoring a research conference entitled "Punishment: The U.S. Record" to be held November 30 and December 1, 2006.  The conference will cover all aspects of imprisonment and punishment in the U.S., but some speakers will focus on the death penalty.  In particular, John Donohue III will examine recent deterrence studies and David Garland will discuss the function that capital punishment serves in society.  Other speakers at the conference include U.S. Senator Barack Obama from Illinois (invited), Bob Kerrey, President of the New School, and Stephen Bright of the Southern Center for Human Rights.

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South Retains the Highest Murder Rate in 2005

According to the FBI's Preliminary Uniform Crime Report for 2005, all regions of the country experienced a rise in murder rates in 2005.  The Midwest had the largest increase (5.8%) and the West had the smallest increase (3.2%).  Based on the increases reported by the FBI and the previous year's murder rates, the South again had the highest murder rate in the country-- 6.9 murders per 100,000 people--followed by the West (5.9), Midwest (5.0) and the Northeast (4.4).  The rates for forcible rape were down in every area of the country.  Final statistics will be available from the FBI in the fall.  (FBI Press Release, June 12, 2006).

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DETERRENCE: Nevada Executions--11 out 12 Preferred Execution over Appeals

Daryl Mack, who repeatedly noted that he would rather be executed than spend the next 20 years of his life on death row pursuing legal appeals, was executed Wednesday for a 1988 murder in Reno.  Mack was convicted in 2002.   He was the 12th person executed in Nevada since capital punishment was reinstated in 1977, and the 11th to waive remaining appeals at the time of execution. He was the first black man to be executed in the Nevada since executions resumed in the state.

On the same day that Mack was lethally injected in Nevada, the U.S. Supreme Court considered the issue of lethal injection in a Florida case.  Many executions nationally have been stayed because of this issue. (Review-Journal, April 27, 2006) .

There have been 15 executions in the U.S. this year, down from 17 carried out at this time in 2005. This year's executions are nearly 60% fewer than the number of executions at this time in 1999 (36).

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NEW VOICES: New Jersey Attorney General Says Death Penalty Not Necessary, Not Working

New Jersey Attorney General Zulima Farber (pictured) recently voiced her support for extending the state's moratorium on executions, noting that she does not believe the death penalty is a "necessary tool" for prosecutors and believes capital punishment does not deter crime. "I don't think it's a deterrent. And I understand revenge. I think some people deserve it. But I don't think it's a necessary tool. . . . I don't have a philosophical or religious opposition to the death penalty, I have a practical opposition to the death penalty," Farber stated.

There are 10 people on New Jersey's death row and the state hasn't carried out an execution since 1963, a fact that Farber argues does not make the state less safe. She notes that death penalty cases are very costly and there is no assurance that the results will be perfect. Costs, the needs of victim's family members, and questions about the fairness and accuracy of New Jersey's death penalty are among the chief concerns that will be addressed by a task force that New Jersey legislators established in January 2006. "I support the moratorium being extended. I would welcome the analysis of data and whatever the commission is going to look at and I would not oppose cessation," Farber concluded. (Associated Press, March 16, 2006). 

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Law Enforcement Views on Deterrence


The graph to the right shows the results of a 2008 poll of 500 police chiefs in the United States, conducted by R.T. Strategies of Washington, DC. Police chiefs ranked the death penalty last when asked to name one area as "most important for reducing violent crime." Higher priorities included increasing the number of police officers, reducing drug abuse, and creating a better economy.

A study of the deterrence value of the death penalty focused on whether the death penalty deterred the murder of police officers. The researchers surveyed a thirteen year period of police homicides. The study concluded " we find no consistent evidence that capital punishment influenced police killings during the 1976-1989 period. . . . [P]olice do not appear to have been afforded an added measure of protection against homicide by capital punishment." (W. Bailey and R. Peterson, Murder, Capital Punishment, and Deterrence: A Review of the Evidence and an Examination of Police Killings, 50 Journal of Social Issues 53, 71 1994)

Smart on Crime: Reconsidering the Death Penalty in a Time of Economic Crisis.  In this 2009 study, the nation’s police chiefs rank the death penalty last in their priorities for effective crime reduction. The officers do not believe the death penalty acts as a deterrent to murder, and they rate it as one of most inefficient uses of taxpayer dollars in fighting crime. Criminologists concur that the death penalty does not effectively reduce the number of murders.


Deterrence & Murder of Police Officers - According to statistics from the latest FBI Uniform Crime Report, regions of the country that use the death penalty the least are the safest for police officers. Police are most in danger in the south, which accounts for 80% of all executions (90% in 2000). From 1989-1998, 292 law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in the south, 125 in the west, 121 in the midwest, and 80 in the northeast, the region with the fewest execution - less than 1%. The three leading states where law enforcement officers were feloniously killed in 1998 were California, the state with the highest death row population (7); Texas, the state with the most executions since 1976 (5); and Florida, the state that is third highest in executions and in death row population (5). (FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 1998) 

 Law Enforcement Officers Feloniously Killed 1989-1998



 On the Front Line: Law Enforcement Views on the Death Penalty  A 1995 national survey of police chiefs from around the country discredits the repeated assertion that the death penalty is an important law enforcement tool.


A survey of experts from the American Society of Criminology, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Law and Society Association showed that the overwhelming majority did not believe that the death penalty is a proven deterrent to homicide. Over 80% believe the existing research fails to support a deterrence justification for the death penalty. Similarly, over 75% of those polled do not believe that increasing the number of executions, or decreasing the time spent on death row before execution, would produce a general deterrent effect. (M. Radelet and R. Akers, Deterrence and the Death Penalty: The Views of the Experts, 1995)

Research reported in Homicide Studies, Vol. 1, No.2, May 1997, indicates that executions may actually increase the number of murders, rather than deter murders. Prof. Ernie Thomson at Arizona State University reported a brutalizing effect from an execution in Arizona, consistent with the results of a similar study in Oklahoma.

 Deaths of Children in the US: New Report - Apparently, the US's use of the death penalty is not improving its standing in the world community when it comes to the deaths of children. In a February 7, 1997 Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (part of U.S Dept. of Health and Human Services), from 1950-1993 child homicide rates in the U. S. tripled. CDC compared the U.S. with 25 other industrialized countries and found that "the United States has the highest rates of childhood homicide, suicide, and firearm-related death among industrialized countries." Almost all of these other industrialized countries have stopped using the death penalty

The report found that:

The overall firearm-related death rate among U.S. children less than 15 years of age was 12 times higher than among children in the other 25 countries combined.

The firearm-related homicide rate in the U.S. was nearly 16 times higher than in all of the other countries combined.

The firearm-related suicide rate was nearly 11 times higher.

The report noted that previous studies have shown an association between rates of violent childhood death and low funding for social programs, economic stress related to participation of women in the labor force, divorce, ethnic-linguistic heterogeneity, and social acceptability of violence. (Rates of Homicide, Suicide, and Firearm-Related Death Among Children - 26 Industrialized Countries, 46 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 101 (Feb 7, 1997))

In comparing the rate of death by handguns in eight industrialized countries, the United States stands out with a rate of death by handguns that is much higher than the rate of other countries. The United States is also the only country of the eight to retain use of the death penalty. In most foreign countries, gun control laws are more restrictive and gun owners are assigned more responsibility. (Washington Post, 4/4/98)


Return to Deterrence

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NEW RESOURCE: Researchers Retest the Deterrence Studies

A new edition of the Stanford Law Review contains an article entitled Uses and Abuses of Empirical Evidence in the Death Penalty Debate.  The article examines and performs comparison tests on recent studies that have claimed a deterrent effect to the death penalty.  Authors John J. Donohue of Yale Law School and Justin Wolfers of the University of Pennsylvania state their goal and conclusions:

(O)ur aim in this Article is to provide a thorough assessment of the statistical evidence on this important public policy issue and to understand better the conflicting evidence.
Our estimates suggest not just “reasonable doubt” about whether there is any deterrent effect of the death penalty, but profound uncertainty.
We are led to conclude that there exists profound uncertainty about the deterrent (or antideterrent) effect of the death penalty; the data tell us that capital punishment is not a major influence on homicide rates, but beyond this, they do not speak clearly. Further, we suspect that our conclusion that econometric studies are highly uncertain about the effects of the death penalty will persist for the foreseeable future.
Aggregating over all of our estimates, it is entirely unclear even whether the preponderance of evidence suggests that the death penalty causes more or less murder.

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