Every year in the United States, there are approximately 50 to 60 million people who report having an interaction with a member of law enforcement. They include everything from 9-1-1 calls and domestic disturbance incidents to traffic stops and general patrol duties. The majority of these incidents are unremarkable, often positive; all parties get home safely, without acrimony or violence. Most police officers spend their entire careers without firing a weapon, let alone taking a life. Unfortunately, in a fraction of these total interactions, the outcomes are tragic.
In 2022, Axon announced a moonshot goal to cut gun-related deaths between police and the public by 50% in 10 years.
According to the newly released Axon Public Safety Gun Fatality Database, there were 1,201 gun-related deaths between police and the public, including 1,142 civilians and 59 officers, in 2022. With the baseline data now established, cutting gun-related deaths in half over the next decade means driving down fatalities to fewer than 600 per year, even as the population grows, by 2033.
The Axon Public Safety Gun Fatality Database is published in collaboration with the Institute for Intergovernmental Research (IIR), an industry-leading third-party research partner, to provide a comprehensive view of gunfire fatalities between law enforcement and civilians in the United States. The goal is to, as comprehensively as possible, provide an impartial view of relevant public information available on each incident, so that law enforcement, government and community leaders, the private sector, researchers, media, and the general public can reference and use the database. Through this research, Axon hopes to uncover new insights that help lead to new solutions to a seemingly intractable problem.
View the Axon Public Safety Gun Fatality Database
Axon has long been in pursuit of increasing safety with our technologies and services. Prior to launching the moonshot goal, our data analysts closely reviewed 500 publicly available incident reviews from The Washington Post 2021 Fatal Force database, as well as data from several major global public safety agencies. We looked at the conditions that were present in fatal incidents, extrapolating insights and matching them to technological possibilities. For example, of the fatal incidents we initially reviewed, the majority (80%) had backup officers on scene, occurred within 40 feet, and had no physical obstructions between officers and the subjects. Understanding factors like these is what led to the technological requirements we solved for in the making of the new TASER 10 energy weapon.
It is important to note that we are potentially limited in our ability to generalize these conditions to all fatal incidents, due to factors such as variability in reporting. However, in the context of Axon's pursuit of utilizing cutting-edge technology to keep both civilians and officers safe, we were compelled to ask further questions and push for more robust data. This analysis is also what led us to feel confident in a bold but achievable 50% reduction in gun-related deaths between police and the public, especially when we considered the advancements of the TASER 10 energy weapon in combination with additional measures such as advancements in other technologies, new and evolved training tools and techniques, policy changes, and more.
Beyond The Washington Post Fatal Force database, there are other databases that we reviewed before we began this endeavor with IIR to ensure we could contribute meaningfully to the issue without redundancy. One important factor in the database’s creation was sustainability; because this is a decade-long focus, we wanted to ensure that data would be consistently tracked for at least 10 years. Beyond that, the Axon Public Safety Gun Fatality Database brings together both officer and civilian data, which previously was unavailable in a centralized way. Additionally, certain variables in the dataset have not been collected in other datasets and will expand over time. We believe this comprehensive set of metrics will provide relevant information to both Axon and other organizations who wish to help develop solutions to reduce gun-related deaths between police and the pubic.
Tier 1 data includes basic information about an incident, such as time of day, activity prompting a response, and the subject’s age and race. This is what’s currently available on the public dashboard.
Tier 2 data is still being collected and will include additional information such as years of experience of the officer, criminal history of the subject, and distance of the incident to a hospital. The more comprehensive Tier 2 data attempts to uncover new opportunities for technology, training, policy or other solutions that Axon and others can pursue.
More information can be found in the Methodology located in the database dashboard at axon.com/moonshot/gun-fatality-database.
The process of comprehensive data gathering and analysis is ongoing, including attempts to uncover more information about variables with a high percentage of “unknown” results. Over time, we will also determine the need to add variables to the dataset. While we reviewed other databases during this effort, we will again review other datasets over the coming months to reconcile any differences where needed.
The Axon Public Safety Gun Fatality Database currently includes two-and-a-half years’ worth of data, and already there are some interesting learnings that can prompt additional examination. A greater understanding of issues and trends will emerge as the dataset continues to expand, and Axon will use this information to identify areas of impact for reaching the moonshot goal.
Two variables the database captures are whether a TASER energy weapon or a body-worn camera was used in the incident. In 2022, a TASER energy weapon was used for 11% of incidents, not used for 20%, and is unknown for the remaining 68%. For body-worn cameras, these percentages are 41% used, 13% not used, and 46% unknown. This is data Axon can explore with agencies: What occurred in the incidents where a TASER energy weapon was used? Could there be cases where a more advanced TASER energy weapon could have been more effective? How does the presence of a TASER energy weapon or body-worn camera change the risk profile for both an officer and a civilian? As the Axon Public Safety Gun Fatality Database evolves over time, we will seek to provide a method for law enforcement agency input where data is unknown or unclear, helping provide more information on the many variables for these incidents.
The database today captures the type of law enforcement agency involved in an incident. The vast majority (nearly 80%) are categorized as “Local,” which is defined as city, county, or township police departments. As we compile more precise location data (e.g., latitude and longitude), we will be able to understand greater levels of granularity about agency types, and whether there are differences between the number of incidents that occur in major cities versus rural areas, and what that might mean in terms of potential interventions or solutions. Similarly, as additional variables are added to the database and the timeframe of measurement continues, we may see other trends such as seasonality of incidents when overlaid by other variables such as location. Or in a very different set of circumstances, looking at whether de-escalation attempts were more common in shorter incidents than longer ones, or vice versa, and therefore whether there may be training implications.
We know anecdotally that behavioral health issues are an increasing concern. Although behavioral health issues were not the top reason an incident was prompted, they were in the top 10, and showed an over 70% increase from 2021 (from 36 incidents in 2021 to 63 incidents in 2022). There are numerous solutions attempting to address these issues, such as re-imagined training, crisis intervention programs, and other tools like body-worn cameras with bi-directional communications that allow mental health professions to be remotely present during incidents. It will be interesting to see if or how interventions like these may be reflected in gun fatality data in the long term.
Additionally, many of the top prompting activities for an incident are well-known within law enforcement as high-risk encounters, such as traffic stops, which remained relatively flat year over year, or warrant service, which showed a decrease. Further data and analysis is needed to determine whether the incident type itself leads to more fatal incidents, or if because these incident types are more frequent, they have a higher likelihood of fatal incidents occurring. It’s our hope that the database can add more color and context to these types of encounters, so that new ideas for training or technology may be explored. For example, are there opportunities where data from real-time Automated License Plate Reader (ALPR) technology can be further analyzed to see what factors might make traffic stops more or less safe? And in the case of fugitive searches, which saw a 100% increase from 2021 to 2022, how might drone technology play a role in making those outcomes safer in the future? More data is needed to determine how to proceed with some of these questions. The richness of the data to come enables closer consideration, and ultimately imagination, of potential new solutions.
Gun-related deaths between police and the public represent a complex set of factors that can’t be explained by one single issue or input. However, with a centralized database that will only become more robust as research continues, Axon will continue to interpret the data and provide perspective in hopes of identifying new areas of impact to achieve the moonshot goal. We encourage others to use the data to do the same.