Monday, July 11, 2016

Police aren't more likely to shoot blacks, but are more likely to use force

A new study confirms that black men and women are treated differently in the hands of law enforcement. They are 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.

But when it comes to the most lethal form of force — police shootings — the study finds no racial bias.

“It is the most surprising result of my career,” said Roland G. Fryer Jr., the author of the study and a professor of economics at Harvard. The study examined more than a thousand shootings in 10 major police departments, in Texas, Florida and California. ...

Mr. Fryer is the youngest African-American to receive tenure at Harvard and the first one to receive a John Bates Clark medal, a prize given to the most promising American economist under 40. ...

In officer-involved shootings in these cities, officers were more likely to fire their weapons without having first been attacked when the suspects were white. Black and white civilians involved in police shootings were equally likely to have been carrying a weapon. Both of these results undercut the idea that the police wield lethal force with racial bias. ...

But this line of analysis included only encounters in which a shooting took place. A more fundamental question still remained: In the tense moments when a shooting may occur, are police officers more likely to fire if the suspect is black? ...

...in the arena of “shoot” or “don’t shoot,” Mr. Fryer found that, in tense situations, officers in Houston were about 20 percent less likely to shoot a suspect if the suspect was black. ...

...the results were largely the same whether or not Mr. Fryer used information from narratives provided by officers. ...

And in less extreme uses of force, Mr. Fryer found ample racial differences, which is in accord with the public’s perception and other studies.

That gap, adjusted for suspect behavior and other factors, was surprisingly consistent across many different levels of force. Black suspects were 18 percent more likely to be pushed up against a wall, 16 percent more likely to be handcuffed without being arrested and 18 percent more likely to be pushed to the ground.

Even when the police said that civilians were compliant, blacks experienced more force. ...

As an economist, Mr. Fryer wonders if the difference between lethal force — where he did not find racial disparities — and nonlethal force — where he did — might be related to costs. Officers face great costs, legal and psychological, when they unnecessarily fire their weapons. But excessive use of lesser force is rarely tracked or punished. ...

For Mr. Fryer, who has spent much of his career studying ways society can close the racial achievement gap, the failure to punish excessive everyday force is an important contributor to young black disillusionment.
--Quoctrung Bui and Amanda Cox, NYT, on where the differences are