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Policing Is Racially Biased

Policing Is Racially Biased Debate Research Brief
The BriefGet Up To Speed
In 2014, the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri, set off a wave of protests and sparked a movement targeting racial disparities in criminal justice.  Since then, there have been other controversial deaths of African Americans at the hands of law enforcement that have captured the public’s attention, from Tamir Rice, to Philando Castile.  But there are some who say that these encounters, many of them recorded, have fed a narrative of biased policing that the data does not back up, vilifying people who are trying to do good in a difficult job that often puts them in harm’s way.  What are the statistics, and how should we interpret them?  How have recent incidents shaped our view of policing?  Does crime drive law enforcement’s use of force, or is there racial bias?

“That looks like a bad dude.” This was the assessment of a Tulsa police officer of motorist Terence Crutcher as he walked toward his stalled vehicle. It was made from a police helicopter hundreds of feet in the air.

Thursday, September 22, 2016
Sherrilyn Ifill

Black people in America have been under surveillance ever since the seventeenth century, when enslaved Africans were forced to labor in the tobacco and rice fields of the South.

Thursday, August 18, 2016
Darryl Pinckney

A sampling of Justice Department reports showing how systemic bias plays out.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Because the white population is approximately five times larger than the black population, that means unarmed black Americans were five times as likely as unarmed white Americans to be shot and killed by a police officer.

Monday, July 11, 2016
Wesley Lowery

On average, the probability of police-related death is about the same for each race; a sweeping nationwide police bias is not apparent in the numbers.

Monday, January 5, 2015
American Enterprise Institute

Police officers are overwhelmingly good people. They are overwhelmingly people who took exhausting, dangerous jobs because they want to help people.

Sunday, October 16, 2016
James Comey

Another look at the Justice Department’s misguided Ferguson report, which caps the former attorney general’s legacy of racial divisiveness.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015
Barry Latzer

Discrimination probably isn’t driving much of overall racial disparity in police shootings.

Monday, July 11, 2016
Robert Vergruggen
Reports & Studies

A new nationwide survey of 7,917 police officers in departments with at least 100 officers, conducted by the National Police Research Platform, focuses on a wide range of topics about policing, including how police view their jobs, officers’ experiences in the field and how these fatal encounters have impacted the way they do their jobs.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Renee Stepler

When either the violent crime rate or the demographics of a city are accounted for, we find that white police officers are not significantly more likely to kill a black suspect.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016
John Lott and Carlisle Moody

Blacks, Native Americans and Hispanics had higher stop/arrest rates per 10 000 population than white non-Hispanics and Asians.  Ratios of admitted and fatal injury due to legal police intervention per 10 000 stops/arrests did not differ significantly between racial/ethnic groups.

Monday, July 25, 2016
Ted Miller, Bruce Lawrence, Nancy Carlson, Delia Hendrie, Sean Randall, Ian Rockett, and Rebecca Spicer

Even when controlling for arrest demographics, participating departments revealed racial disparities across multiple levels of force severity.

Friday, July 1, 2016
Phillip Atiba Goff, Tracey Lloyd, Amanda Geller, Steven Raphael, and Jack Glaser

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. 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.

Friday, July 1, 2016
Roland Fryer

Ferguson’s police and municipal court practices both reflect and exacerbate existing racial bias, including racial stereotypes. Ferguson’s own data establish clear racial disparities that adversely impact African Americans. The evidence shows that discriminatory intent is part of the reason for these disparities

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Persons of African and Hispanic descent were stopped more frequently than whites, even after controlling for precinct variability and race-specific estimates of crime participation.

Saturday, September 1, 2007
Andrew Gelman, Jeffrey Fagan, and Alex Kiss

This report describes one of the United States Department of Justice’s central tools for accomplishing police reform, restoring police-community trust, and strengthening officer and public safety – the Civil Rights Division’s enforcement of the civil prohibition on a “pattern or practice” of policing that violates the Constitution or other federal laws. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

In terms of the use of lethal force, aggregate statistics on incidents of all types are difficult to obtain from official sources.

Thursday, July 28, 2016
John Wihbey and Leighton Walter Kille

BJS's Law Enforcement Unit maintains more than a dozen national data collections, covering federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and special topics in law enforcement.

Collection of law enforcement use of force statistics.

The Post is compiling a database of all fatal shootings nationwide by officers in the line of duty.  These are the 2015 numbers.  The 2016 numbers are here

Implicit Bias

To truly understand implicit bias is to know it does not equate solely to racism or prejudice, but rather is a fundamental way human beings function.

Monday, November 7, 2016
David Blake

Does automatic implicit racial bias influence the decision to shoot?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016
Denise Cummins
President’s Task Force

People are more likely to obey the law when they believe that those who are enforcing it have the legitimate authority to tell them what to do . . . . The public confers legitimacy only on those they believe are acting in procedurally just ways.

Sunday, May 1, 2016
Charles Ramsey and Laurie Robinson, co-chairs