It’s hard to come by hard data on the number of actual police-involved killings in the USA every year. While the FBI tabulates the total number of annual cop-related deaths in the US as a little under 500, that figure is certainly an undercount—as proven by this website, at least 1,000 people last year were killed by men in uniform.
Still, there are many other things—some simple and surprising—that kill more Americans every year than police do.
1. Foodborne Illnesses
Official 2011 US Body Count: 3,037
I had to reach back a few years to cull the best annualized estimate for food contaminant-related deaths, as the 2013 CDC data didn’t explicitly spell out how many Americans kicked the bucket from E. coli and Salmonella altogether. That said, the organization’s 2011 numbers say it loud and clear: food-related pathogen infections sicken about 48 million Americans a year, hospitalize more than 125,000 and could be responsible for as many as 5,000 fatalities. Forget about the “pigs” gunning you down, since you are actually three times likelier to be killed by that hamburger in your hand or the ice cream in the fridge.
Official 2013 US Body Count: 3,224 (plus an additional 158 deaths related to other nutritional deficiencies)
As it turns out, not eating poses just as big a problem as chowing down on listeria-soaked lettuce. Although 70 percent of US adults are considered overweight or obese, the USDA says a good 49 million Americans (representing about a sixth of the entire national population) live in food-insecure households. Alas, it appears that a majority of those who starve to death in the US of A aren’t dirt poor kids in the slums or the sticks (or wealthy ones with eating disorders in the ‘burbs), but the elderly. Granted, this one may generally apply to the over 65 set, but the numbers still trump the national death tolls from cop-related killings three-fold.
Official 2013 US Body Count: 30,208
Even after you phase out the 25,000 or so fall-related deaths for senior citizens, you are still left with a misstep-related body count nearing 5,000 for the general adult population. That’s about five times as many corpses stemming from slippery floors, unstable rungs and unsmooth surfaces than law-enforcement-involved killings, but I highly doubt we’ll be seeing #laddersafetymatters trending on Twitter anytime soon.
2013 US Body Count: 29,001 (plus an additional 18,146 deaths due to alcoholic liver disease)
This combined death toll, already 47 times higher than the death toll tied to cop-involved homicides, is likely a vast undercount. In addition to being a factor in one out of every 10 fatal auto accidents, alcohol is believed to be a factor in nearly three-quarters of all drowning deaths and close to half of all fire-related deaths. And on top of that? Further research suggests that it’s a factor in a third of all US suicides and as many as two-out-of-five US homicides. Earlier CDC findings suggests 10 percent of ALL adult US deaths are connected to excessive drinking: if such data is accurate, that means you’re actually 65 times likelier to die because you or someone else drank too much than you are to meet your fate at the hands of a donut duster.
5. Healthcare Providers
2013 US Body Count: 2,768 from medical/surgical care complications, plus an estimated 75,000 fatalities stemming from healthcare-associated infections
Point blank, the CDC tells us that we’re nearly three times likelier to die due to a physician’s mistake than we are a police shooting, strangling or pummeling. That alone seems like something that would be a bit more publicized, but when you look into the data provided by the Institute of Medicine (an authoritative NGO under the United States National Academies umbrella), the scope of the problem becomes downright astounding. Their estimates put the number of US citizens who die as a direct result of diagnostic, treatment and preventive care failures somewhere between 44,000 and 98,000 each and every year. If even the lower bound IOM estimates are accurate, that’s a higher annual tally than the number of Americans who die from either motor vehicle accidents or breast cancer. That’s not the end of it, though. On top of those deaths, you can add another 75,000 fatalities a year connected to what the CDC calls healthcare-associated infections. If the 2013 CDC medical error data, the 2011 CDC infections numbers and the 1999 IOM low estimates are even half what are claimed, that still gives us approximately 60,000 physician and nurse error-related deaths each and every year.
That begs the question: since health care providers are responsible for what has to be at least 60 times as many deaths as police officers, why aren’t we clamoring for every ER doctor and ICU nurse in the nation to wear body cameras, too?