New Study Claims to Reveal Whether Police Are More Likely to Shoot Black or White Suspects

Law enforcement officials do not have any racial bias in terms of using lethal force, according to a new study.

Image via Harvard faculty page
Professor and economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. (Image source: Harvard faculty page)

Roland G. Fryer Jr., an economics professor at Harvard University, commissioned the study in the wake of the high-profile police shootings of black men such as Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. The study looked at more than 1,000 officer-involved shootings across 10 major police departments in California, Florida and Texas.

The study found that while police may show racial bias in terms of other types of force — such as the use of hands, pushing a suspect to the ground or against a wall and pointing a weapon — there was no indication of racial bias when it comes to firing a gun.

Also revealed was that police officers were more likely to shoot a suspect in incidents without having first been attacked in cases where the suspects were white. It also found that black and white suspects were equally likely to have been carrying their own weapons when involved in a police shooting.  

“It is the most surprising result of my career,” Fryer told the New York Times.

His anger over police shootings of black men drove him to commission the study rather than join in demonstrations, he said.

“You know, protesting is not my thing. But data is my thing,” Fryer explained. “So I decided that I was going to collect a bunch of data and try to understand what really is going on when it comes to racial differences in police use of force.”

While data on police shootings is generally inconclusive, a Washington Post analysis of shooting deaths by law enforcement officials in 2015 found that white suspects were killed more often than black suspects — 494 white suspects compared to 258 black suspects.

Yet in other aspects of interactions with suspects and police officers, Fryer’s study showed police officers were more likely to use other types of force on black suspects. The study found that officers are 17 percent more likely to use their hands, 16 percent more likely to use handcuffs, 19 percent more likely to draw their weapons, 24 percent more likely to point their weapon and 25 percent more likely to use pepper spray on black suspects than on white suspects in New York City alone.

As the Times noted, Fryer’s study did not determine whether some of the more high-profile police shootings of black men were racially motivated.

(H/T: New York Times)

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