Our database of police officers who shoot citizens reveals who’s most likely to shoot

"If fatal shootings of minority civilians are due to bias by white officers, we would expect that when white officers are involved in a fatal shooting, the person fatally shot would be more likely to be black or Hispanic. This is not what we found." - The Conversation

(HT: Intellectual Takeout)

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Joel Shaffer's picture

This study is like most other studies, which have shown that when it comes to using lethal force, Police are not racially biased. However, many of my black friends are most upset when there is little or no accountability in our laws and culture when certain police mistakenly kill unarmed black citizens.    

Interestingly, several studies have concluded, while there is no racial bias when it comes to lethal force, there is racial bias when it comes to police using non-lethal force, that blacks are much more likely to be touched, handcuffed, pushed to the ground or pepper-sprayed by a police officer, even after accounting for how, where and when they encounter the police. https://www.nationalreview.com/2018/09/police-shootings-david-french-cha...

One example is when the DOJ Ferguson Report exposed the Ferguson police department's racial bias, including racial bias when it came to non-lethal force by its police officers.   I recently read the Justice Report on Ferguson, and while it demonstrated that Brown was not killed in the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” narrative-which sparked the rioting, it also provided mountains of evidence showing how the Ferguson police department for decades had regularly violated Missouri and Federal Laws by unlawfully detaining people without reasonable suspicion and arresting people without probable cause, especially African-Americans. What’s more, the DOJ found that in Ferguson, officers sometimes made an arrest without writing a report or even obtaining an incident number, and hundreds of reports piled up for months without supervisors reviewing them. Officers’ uses of force frequently went unreported and were reviewed only laxly when reviewed at all. As a result of these deficient practices, stops, arrests, and uses of force that violate the law or FPD policy were rarely detected and were often ignored when they were discovered. What’s even more, the DOJ discovered several emails by police supervisors and court staff circulating that stereotyped racial minorities as criminals including one email that joked that abortion of African-American woman being a means of crime control.    There are several police departments that do are not as bad as Ferguson and I appreciate several of the police departments in West Michigan such as the Grand Rapids Police Department that recently fired a cop who punched a man some 30 times for refusing to get out of his car.  That they are willing to police themselves too in order to gain trust with the community that they protect and serve.    

Bert Perry's picture

Keep in mind here that a (group x) police officer can be biased against (racial group x).  One hypothesis offered by people like Anthony Bradley is that many minority police officers are middle class and biased against the poor of their own race/ethnicity, and this hypothesis at least works with the data presented here.   There is (I hope) a fine line that can be found between (a) ignoring crimes committed by certain racial and ethnic groups and (b) using perceived/real crime rates of those same racial and ethnic groups as a pretext for stretching or breaking the rules of good policing.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture


The newly launched National Use-of-Force Data Collection should prove to be a goldmine for future research. Toward Joel's concerns, the database doesn't just collect shooting data. So there will be lots of pattern-analysis type studies in the days and years ahead as more data is collected.

I think nobody questions that there are (a) bad individual officers and (b) dysfunctional departments (or, in the case of really large departments, there can be dysfunctional divisions). What these prove about the nation as a whole is pretty doubtful.

Studies conflict on these topics, and that's likely to continue for a while, but a growing and more detailed dataset is sure to help clarify some things.

What we know already, though, is that perceptions are often pretty far from the reality.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.