Understanding Racial Disparities in Police Use of Lethal Force: Lessons from Fatal Police-on-Police Shootings
Amanda Charbonneau, Katherine Spencer & Jack Glaser
Journal of Social Issues, December 2017, Pages 744-767
During a 29-year period studied by a government task force, 10 off-duty police officers were found to have been mistaken for civilians and fatally shot by another police officer. Eight of these officers were Black, one was Hispanic, and one was White. Given that at least 75% of U.S. police officers in this period were White, we estimate that there is a roughly one in one million chance that this disparity reflects a random deviation from a condition in which Black and White officers faced the same risk of being fatally shot by another officer while off duty. Estimates of the magnitude of this racial disparity must be interpreted cautiously, but the increased risk faced by Black officers while off duty compared to their White counterparts appears to be even larger than the racial disparity among civilians killed by police officers. The disparity is much less pronounced in mistaken-identity fatal shootings of on-duty officers, of which two were Black, one was Hispanic, and 12 were White. These incidents are rare, but they comprise an important subset of all police interactions because they are known errors that involve a misperception of threat, and because the differential patterns of racial disparities suggest that there are situational factors that vary systematically and contribute to the observed outcomes. We examine fatal, mistaken identity police-on-police shootings and explore potential explanations for the dramatic racial disparity among officers killed while off duty.
A Few Bad Apples? Racial Bias in Policing
Felipe Goncalves & Steven Mello
Princeton Working Paper, November 2017
We estimate the degree to which individual police officers practice racial discrimination. Traffic police regularly discount the charged speed on drivers' tickets to avoid a discrete jump in the fine schedule. This behavior leads to an excess mass in the distribution of charged speeds just below the jump. Using a bunching estimation design and data from the Florida Highway Patrol, we show that minorities are less likely to receive this break than white drivers. We disaggregate to the individual police officer level and find significant heterogeneity across officers in their degree of discrimination, with 40% of officers explaining the entirety of the aggregate discrimination. Our measure of discrimination is easy to calculate and can be used by police departments as part of an early warning system. Using a simple personnel policy that reassigns officers across locations based on their lenience, departments can effectively reduce the aggregate disparity in treatment.
Does the Punishment Fit the Crime? Speeding Fines and Recidivism
Felipe Goncalves & Steven Mello
Princeton Working Paper, October 2017
We estimate the causal effect of harsher speeding punishments on future driving behavior of cited drivers. To account for the fact that punishments are not randomly assigned, we leverage variation in ticket-writing practices across highway patrol officers in Florida. The fine associated with a ticket written for 10-14 MPH over the speed limit is, on average, $75 higher than that with a ticket for 9 MPH over the limit. Over 30% of tickets are written for exactly 9 MPH above the limit, while less than 3% are written for 10 MPH over, suggesting that officers manipulate the ticketed speed, and by extension, the fine faced by the driver. Officers vary considerably in their propensity to write tickets for the lower fine amount, and we instrument the punishment faced by a ticketed driver with the stopping officer's average lenience towards other drivers. Our estimates suggest that, compared with those receiving a higher fine, drivers receiving the lenient fine are over 25% more likely to receive an additional speeding ticket in the following year. We also find that drivers receiving the lenient fine are about 14% more likely to be involved in a car accident in the following year, although this result is more sensitive.
Public Safety, Private Harm: The Impact of Police Militarization on Mortality
Alexander McQuoid & David Vitt
U.S. Naval Academy Working Paper, November 2017
We quantify the impact of transferring productivity-enhancing military surplus equipment to law enforcement on suicide and mortality in the United States. Our strategy relies on federal budget allocations to military within a state to instrument for the value of equipment transferred to law enforcement within the state. We find evidence that the average annual transfer of surplus military equipment to local law enforcement agencies (about $2 million) reduces suicide rates by 0.28 standard deviations. The majority of the reduction in suicide rates stems from a reduction in firearm suicide rates, suggesting more effective police forces reduce the need for households to secure their own property with firearms. For robustness, we show our results do not change in consideration of alternative instruments, nor do they explain mortality from causes of death unrelated to public safety.
Stereotypical Hate Crimes and Criminal Justice Processing: A Multi-Dataset Comparison of Bias Crime Arrest Patterns by Offender and Victim Race
Brendan Lantz, Andrew Gladfelter & Barry Ruback
Justice Quarterly, forthcoming
Many hate crimes are not reported and even fewer hate crimes result in an arrest. This study investigates patterns of victim reporting and arrest for hate crimes in two parts. First, using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, we find that, controlling for offense severity, hate crimes are less likely than non-bias crimes to be reported to the police and that the police are less likely to take further action for hate crimes, compared to non-hate crimes. Second, we use data from the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the National Incident-Based Reporting System to compare differences between types of hate crimes in the likelihood of crime clearance. We find that those hate crimes most likely to result in arrest are those that fit the profile of a "stereotypical" hate crime: violent incidents, incidents committed by hate groups, and incidents involving white offenders and black victims.
A Social Scientific Approach toward Understanding Racial Disparities in Police Shooting: Data from the Department of Justice (1980-2000)
Kendra Scott et al.
Journal of Social Issues, December 2017, Pages 701-722
We analyze data from 213 metropolitan areas over a 21-year period, and examine two possible reasons for the disproportionately high number of Black suspects killed in police officer-involved shootings. One account suggests that such shootings reflect racial bias on the part of police. A second account suggests that Black suspects behave differently (perhaps more aggressively) than White suspects, and that police respond to suspects' behavior (but not race). Our analysis statistically controls for racial differences in criminal activity (a proxy for behavior) and provides a statistical test of the effect of race on police shootings. Results suggest that officers are more likely to shoot Black suspects, even when race-based differences in crime are held constant.
Modern Police Tactics, Police-Citizen Interactions, and the Prospects for Reform
Journal of Politics, forthcoming
High-profile incidents of police misconduct have led to widespread calls for law enforcement reform. But prior studies cast doubt on whether police commanders can control officers, and offer few policy remedies because of their focus on potentially immutable officer traits like personality. I advance an alternative, institutional perspective and demonstrate that police officers - sometimes characterized as autonomous - are highly responsive to managerial directives. Using millions of records of police-citizen interactions alongside officer interviews, I evaluate the impact of a change to the protocol for stopping criminal suspects on police performance. An interrupted time series analysis shows the directive produced an immediate increase in the rate of stops producing evidence of the suspected crime. Interviewed officers said the order signaled increased managerial scrutiny, leading them to adopt more conservative tactics. Procedural changes can quickly and dramatically alter officer behavior, suggesting a reform strategy sometimes forestalled by psychological and personality-driven accounts of police reform.
The Murder Mystery: Police Effectiveness and Homicide
Journal of Quantitative Criminology, December 2017, Pages 859-886
Methods: Regression of crime rates on uniformed police staffing and other economic and demographic covariates, for a panel of 59 US cities for the period 1970-2013.
Results: Lagged crime rates are strong and statistically significant predictors of both policing staffing and crime rates, particularly homicide. When lags are included in the specification, the apparent effect of police on homicide drops by more than 70 %; there is little change in the effect of police on other crimes. Findings are robust with respect to specification and method.
Conclusions: Previous studies omitted lags and overstated the effectiveness of police on homicide. Because murder accounts for almost 40 % of all costs of crime in US cities, it is no longer clear whether increasing police force size is a cost-effective way to cut crime. Improving police tactics is more likely to work and less expensive.
Broken Windows in the Cul-de-Sac? Race/Ethnicity and Quality-of-Life Policing in the Changing Suburbs
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming
The racially disparate impacts of the carceral state are well studied, but most of the research has focused on large cities. Are suburban and urban policing similar? One trend suggests suburban policing might be in flux: U.S. suburbs underwent a dramatic demographic shift between 1990 and 2014. Their White populations declined sharply and their poor, non-White, and foreign-born populations all grew. During the same time, broken windows policing, with its aggressive enforcement of low-level quality-of-life crimes, gained popularity. Are suburban police departments adopting broken windows strategies or making racially disproportionate arrests in response to recent racial and economic changes? I use panel data (N = 1,038 suburbs and 50 cities, with eight observations 1990 to 2014) in fixed effects regression models to address these questions. Data are compiled from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program and the Census. Descriptive statistics show that while quality-of-life arrests are down overall, the White-Black disparity in suburban arrests remains extreme, especially in mostly White suburbs. Multivariate models indicate that increases in poor people in a suburb are associated with increases in quality-of-life arrests, while more Hispanic people are associated with fewer arrests. Results suggest that urban and suburban policing dynamics are quite different.
What Influences Shooter Bias? The Effects of Suspect Race, Neighborhood, and Clothing on Decisions to Shoot
Kimberly Barsamian Kahn & Paul Davies
Journal of Social Issues, December 2017, Pages 723-743
Police shooting deaths of unarmed Blacks and African Americans led to psychological research on the influence of racial stereotypes on decisions to shoot, an effect called shooter bias. This article investigates how contextual cues signaling threat or safety interact with the race of the target to moderate shooter bias. Across two experimental studies using a first person shooter task, participants viewed Black or White male targets who held either a neutral (wallet or cellphone) or dangerous (gun) object. Study 1 manipulated the perceived safety or threat associated with the neighborhood context these shooting decisions occurred in, and Study 2 manipulated the perceived safety or threat associated with the targets' clothing. Participants made quick decisions to "shoot" or "not shoot" the presented target, with error rates serving as the dependent variable. Across both studies, results confirmed that racial bias in shooting decisions against Blacks was present in perceived threatening neighborhoods and in perceived threatening clothing, and it was reduced in perceived safe neighborhoods and when wearing perceived safe clothing. Results help to identify contextual factors that may lead to mistaken shooting decisions, which can be used to improve police training and decision making to reduce bias.
"Your Pants Won't Save You": Why Black Youth Challenge Race-Based Police Surveillance and the Demands of Black Respectability Politics
Erin Kerrison, Jennifer Cobbina & Kimberly Bender
Race and Justice, January 2018, Pages 7-26
The politics of "Black Respectability" foreground Black citizens' individual and collective responsibility to prioritize self-policing, polish, and propriety. Proponents believe that the steady performance of restraint and decorum is critical and that any departure from that repertoire can result in punishment. The belief that racially minoritized youth must earn respect and autonomy, rather than see those rights protected as a standard afforded to all community members, may not be widely held by younger Black people. The following study makes use of interview data collected from 23 Black Baltimore City millennials who shared their perspectives on the social and political contexts that led to Freddie Gray's death while in Baltimore Police custody. When discussing police officers' pursuit of citizens who match Freddie Gray's outward appearance, younger respondents resisted the demands of Black Respectability Politics and, instead, asserted their right to pass through their neighborhoods absent state-sanctioned harassment. This study features an exploration of how generational membership moderates legal socialization, attitudes about personal responsibility for police profiling, and beliefs about the right to the same full spectrum of freedoms and protections enjoyed by majority citizens. Implications for critical race theory, legal cynicism, and intergenerational coalition building are also discussed.
Racial and Ethnic Disparities in the Police Handling of Juvenile Arrests
Ronald Claus, Sarah Vidal & Michele Harmon
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming
The overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minority youth in early stages of juvenile justice processing remains a long-standing concern. The current study uses data from the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS) to examine the effects of race and ethnicity on postarrest handling of juvenile cases by the police. Multilevel analyses controlling for extralegal and contextual factors found that disproportionate minority contact (DMC) was not observed for more severe charges, but Hispanic and minority youth facing less severe charges were more likely to be referred to authorities. Because even small disparities in postarrest handling may have a cumulative effect, the findings highlight the continuing need to better understand police officer behaviors and agency processes that result in DMC.
Law enforcement and wrongful arrests with endogenously (in)competent officers
Ajit Mishra & Andrew Samuel
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming
Economic intuition suggests that enforcement errors incentivize crimes, therefore officers must be penalized for committing such errors. Legal scholars argue that if penalties for errors are severe, officers may become timid while policing (thereby encouraging crime). We evaluate these arguments in a model where officers invest in competence. Competence increases the officer's ability to identify criminals. Low sanctions for errors encourages bold policing by officers but may still raise the equilibrium level of crime because it also discourages investments in competence. Granting immunity to only competent officers ("qualified immunity") reduces both errors and crimes when competence is observable.
Procedural Justice and Citizen Review of Complaints Against the Police: Structure, Outcomes, and Complainants' Subjective Experiences
Robert Worden, Heidi Bonner & Sarah McLean
Police Quarterly, forthcoming
People who file complaints against the police tend to experience objectively unfavorable outcomes, for most complaints are not sustained. But features of citizen oversight might be expected to enhance the procedural justice of the complaint review process and, hence, provide positive subjective experience despite the outcomes. Using data collected through interviews with complainants about their experience with complaint review in a city that provides for citizen oversight, we examine the factors associated with complainants' subjective experiences. We find that complainants' subjective experiences are shaped mainly by outcomes, while features of the process that might be expected to enhance its procedural fairness have little or no effect on complainants' judgments.