SPOKANE, Wash. — You may have heard the startling statistic: activists for police accountability have said that the Spokane Police Department is the third-deadliest police force in the entire United States.
But where does that figure even come from and is it accurate?
The statistic comes from a website called Mapping Police Violence. The site compiled data on people killed by police across America's 100 largest cities, between 2013 and 2020.
Spokane had 17, an average of 2.125 police killings per year during that span.
But in order to be able to compare the 100 cities and control for population, the site did some simple math to calculate what is effectively a per-capita figure. Specifically, it extrapolated how many deaths there would be if every city had exactly a million people.
So the site calculated that based on the death rate, if Spokane had a million people, police would kill an average of 9.9 people per year. And that would in fact rank it third amongst those 100 cities.
"When you look at that, at face value, that would understandably have an emotional impact on a lot of people," said Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl.
Meidl doesn't dispute the hard data used by Mapping Police Violence. But he argues the way they analyzed it doesn't tell the full story. He posted a video outlining his complaints last week.
"Spokane does not have a population of one million," he said in the video. "In order to get to that one million threshold that they use, we would have to multiply the Spokane population by almost five."
In doing this sort of per-capita math, Meidl says the data basically gets skewed.
"The smaller the sample, the bigger degree of change you're going to see with even one degree of change in that sample," he said.
For instance, Spokane police killed one Black person over the eight-year span. But if Spokane had one million Black people, that would equate to an average of 27.9 deaths per year.
"And though that figure may be mathematically correct based on that algorithm of a population of one million, when you provide the context of that data, which is using one African American death in eight years, I think that gives people a different perspective," said Meidl.
Furthermore, by choosing the top 100 cities, Spokane gets compared to enormous cities like New York and Los Angeles, but not similar-sized cities like Boise, or much smaller cities.
Still, the raw data does show Spokane's police force is deadlier than those in several far larger cities.
Those 17 deaths over eight years are still more than in places like Boston, Miami, and Tampa, which had 13, 13 and 11 killings respectively.
That's why Meidl acknowledges there's still a lot of work to do, and says managing use of force remains one of his top priorities.
"We're constantly looking at different ways of honing how our officers are engaging," he said. "[For instance] our use of force review boards, which every month looks at every single use of force."