A significant number of violent injuries are not reported to police departments, according to a new study published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Steven A. Sumner, MD, MSc, of the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and colleagues, coordinated with 1 emergency department with a level 1 trauma designation and 2 police departments in Atlanta for approximately a year and a half. Their goal was to attempt to quantify the number of violent injuries that came through the emergency department without law enforcement’s knowledge.

Interpersonal violence leads to some of the highest rates of death and injury in the country. The research team hoped that, with these data, cities could better understand the prevalence of violence in their area.

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During the study period (November 2015 to May 2017), researchers found that many patients visiting the emergency department would not disclose information about their injuries to the police but would instead inform the nurses in the hospital.

“Among violent incidents occurring in police jurisdictions A and B, the percentage that went unreported to police was 83.2% and 93.1%, respectively,” the authors of the study noted. “A large proportion of hospital-treated violent incidents may be unknown to police.”

Because of privacy concerns, the research team included only data from patients whose injuries came from an incident that happened in a public area rather than in the person’s home or a friend’s house, for example. It is possible that an even larger percentage of incidents went unreported to police but on which no information was collected.

The research team also found many instances in which patients declined to provide information about the incident to the hospital staff at the emergency department. It is likely that these patients also did not speak to the police. This finding suggests there may have been more cases of violence that went unreported and for which no information was captured in the report.

“These findings emphasize the potential of emergency department and police data to provide a complementary and comprehensive understanding of violent injury resulting in significant morbidity,” wrote the authors. “This study provides new support for the United States in the value of cross-sectoral partnerships, the importance of [emergency department]-collected violence data, and the potential of such efforts to improve violence prevention.”


Wu DT, Moore JC, Bowen DA, et al. Proportion of violent injuries unreported to law enforcement [published online November 12, 2018] JAMA Intern Med. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.5139