Police Shootings: Empirical Studies

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I’ve compiled a number of studies on police shootings and their relation to race. Regardless of your political leanings, some of the following studies are going to surprise you, as they paint a much more complicated picture (and they don’t always agree with each other). As such, I hope this does more than confirm what you already believe.

A. Data on those killed by the police:

1) A Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis of Racial Bias in Police Shootings at the County-Level in the United States, 2011–2014


i- “The median probability across counties of being {black, armed, and shot by police} is 2.94 (PCI95: 2.23, 3.86) times the probability of being {white, armed, and shot by police}. The median probability across counties of being {hispanic, armed, and shot by police} is 1.57 (PCI95: 1.14, 2.09) times the probability of being {white, armed, and shot by police}.”

ii- “There is no relationship between county-level racial bias in police shootings and crime rates (even race-specific crime rates), meaning that the racial bias observed in police shootings in this data set is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates.”

2) An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force


i- “On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police.”

ii- “Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities.”

iii- “On the most extreme use of force — officer-involved shootings — we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual
factors are taken into account.”

3) Race, Crime, and the Micro-Ecology of Deadly Force


i- “[N]either neighborhood racial composition nor socioeconomic status is significantly associated with the frequency of police shootings. Only the level of firearm violence has a direct effect on police shootings in St. Louis neighborhoods. These results suggest that police use of deadly force is a function of serious crime—firearm violence in particular.”

ii- “Race does matter but only insofar as it increases the level of firearm violence and, even then, only to a point.”

ii- “Police shootings are less frequent in areas with the highest levels of criminal violence than in those with midlevels of violence.”

4) The Science of Justice: Race, Arrests, and Use of Force


i- “[T]hese analyses reveal that racial disparities persist even when [controlling for number of] arrests.”

ii- “[T]hese disparities dissipate (and even reverse [i.e. Blacks become less likely than Whites to experience use of force]) when controlling for violent Part I arrests.”

iii- “5 of the 12 participating departments (42%) still evidence disproportionate targeting of Black residents when violent arrests are controlled.”

5) Deadly Force, in Black and White


i- “That’s not to say officers weren’t killing white people. Indeed, some 44 percent of all those killed by police across the 33 years were white.”

ii- “Black officers account for a little more than 10 percent of all fatal police shootings. Of those they kill, though, 78 percent were black.”

iii- “White officers killed 91 percent of the whites who died at the hands of police. And they were responsible for 68 percent of the people of color killed.”

iv- “Those people of color represented 46 percent of all those killed by white officers.”

6) How Many Police Kill Black Men? Without Database, We Can’t Know


i- “The ProPublica analysis is absolute garbage because it is based on the FBI’s supplemental homicide reports. I told them, don’t do it because the stats are horseshit.”

ii- “Looking at the bigger, 15-year picture, Moskos found that black youths were nine times more likely than white youths to be killed by officers. Including Hispanics among whites cut the ratio to 5.5:1. Including victims of all ages reduced the ratio to 4:1.”

B. Data on those who kill the police:

1) Are police officers more likely to kill African-American suspects?


i- “The report for 2003 (U.S. FBI, 2006)’ indicates that … 40.1% of [offenders in fatal attacks on police officers] in the entire 10-yr. period 1994-2003, were African-American.”

ii- “By this standard, the African-American percentage of suspects killed by police (29.1%) is substantially lower than one would expect based on the best available data on those who represent a mortal threat to police.”

2) Men Who Kill Policemen


i- “Among the 27 intentional killers of policemen in 2013, 12 were white (44%), 10 were black (37%), and 11% were Hispanic. In addition, there was one Native American and one Chechen. The breakdown for the 39 men in 2014 is as follows: 21 were white (54%), 10 were black (26%), and 7 were Hispanic (18%); also, there was one Inuit man from Alaska.”

C. Data on police officers’ likelihood of shooting:

1) Risk Factors Associated with Police Shootings: A Matched Case-Control Study


i- “Older officers who became police officers later in life were less likely to shoot.”

ii- “Black officers were 3.3 times more likely to shoot than white officers (P = 0:01). While substantial public concern comes from shootings involving white officers and black victims, this study shows that white officers are more than three times less likely to discharge their firearms compared to black officers on the scene of the same incident.”

2) The Reverse Racism Effect


i- “When holding all other variables constant (including suspect demeanor, language, dress, distance from participant, movement, location, sound, and light levels), officers took an average 200 ms longer to shoot armed Black suspects than armed White suspects.”

ii- “By calculating the odds ratio, we found that officers were slightly more than three times less likely to shoot unarmed Black suspects than unarmed White suspects.”

3) Racial and ethnic bias in decisions to shoot seen through a stronger lens: experimental results from high-fidelity laboratory simulations


i- “Our participants demonstrated significantly greater threat responses against black suspects than white or Hispanic suspects suggesting they held subconscious biases associating blacks with threat.”

ii- “The mean reaction time in threat scenarios with black suspects (1.61 s) was greater than for either white or Hispanic suspects. Participants were quicker to shoot Hispanic than white suspects in threat scenarios, although not significantly so (0.88 vs. 1.37 s, respectively).”

iii- “The results of the multi-level, fixed effects model revealed that even after controlling for scenario difficulty and accounting for between-subject variation, participants still responded significantly more slowly when confronting black suspects than those who were white or Hispanic (t=2.55, df=515, p<.05). And there was no significant difference in their reaction times when confronting Hispanic vs. white suspects.”

4) Will More Black Cops Matter? Officer Race and Police-Involved Homicides of Black Citizens


i- The study finds that after controlling for a number of variables, increasing the number of black police officers results in an increase in shootings of black citizens. Once the percentage of black officers reaches about 40%, the shootings begin to go down again, but they remain higher than the majority-white departments.


D. Some other articles to look at:

Note: Some of these studies may be biased and/or suffer from low-quality scholarship.

Police Responses to Officer-Involved Shootings


i- Following a shooting, 48% of officers had trouble sleeping, 24% cried, 83% had recurrent thoughts, 26% felt sadness, and 12% felt guilt.

When Force is Hardest to Justify, Victims of Police Violence Are Most Likely to be Black

Here’s What We Know About Race And Killings By Police

Grossly misleading claims about Black teens being “vastly more likely to be killed by police than Whites even after adjusting for crime rates”

Black and Unarmed: Behind the Numbers


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