Study: White Police Officers Are Not More Likely to Shoot Minority Suspects

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A new, peer-reviewed study published in the Public Information Review revealed some surprising results about lethal shootings by police of minority suspects.

Despite numerous claims to the contrary, the study found that white police officers were not more likely to shoot minority suspects.


Pacific Standard:

When a white police officer fatally shoots a black man, angry acquaintances often assume the tragedy was triggered by a racist cop.

New research reports that, while some officers may by driven by personal prejudice, the bias that can serve as a catalyst for killings is more institutional than individual.

“White officers do not kill black suspects at a higher rate compared with nonwhite officers,” concludes a research team led by Charles Menifield, dean of the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University–Newark. “The killing of black suspects is a police problem, not a white police problem.”

The authors had some other surprising conclusions:

  • The vast majority of people killed by police are armed at the time of their fatal encounter, and more than two‐thirds possess a gun.
  • African Americans are disproportionately killed by police officers nationwide.
  • The disproportionate killing of African Americans by police officers does not appear to be driven by micro‐level racism. Rather, it is likely driven by a combination of macro‐level public policies that target minority populations and meso‐level policies and practices of police forces.
  • Fundamental macro‐level policy changes, as well as changes to meso‐level organizational practices, are necessary to address the root causes of racial disparities in police killings.

I don’t know if it’s possible to “address the root causes of racial disparities in police killings” without examining why there is a disproportionate number of minorities who commit crimes. Racism? Poverty? Bad public policies? Take your pick, but the truth in this matter may be obscured by the academic fear that giving the wrong answer will destroy their careers.

But the important finding in this study is that the presumed racism of individual cops played little or no role in the deaths of minority suspects.

The majority of officers in these situations were white. But this reflects the fact that America’s police forces are disproportionately made up of whites, who account for approximately three-quarters of all officers.

Crunching the numbers, the researchers report “white police officers actually kill black and other minority suspects at lower rates than we would expect if killings were randomly distributed among officers of all races.”

In contrast, “we find that nonwhite officers kill both black and Latino suspects at significantly higher rates than white officers,” they write. “This is likely due to the fact that minority police officers tend to be assigned to minority neighborhoods, and therefore have more contact with minority suspects.”


I frankly don’t know what the solution is any more than the researchers do, who suggest that “institutional racism” is ultimately the reason for the racial disparity in lethal killings.

That may be, but it definitely is not anything being suggested by Black Lives Matter or any other activist group that has been accusing white cops of killing black suspects simply because they’re racist.




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