Monday, July 11, 2016

Is there a tipping-point in police shootings?

i) When I read some evangelical black pundits on police shootings, they act as though there should be a tipping-point in white evangelical perception of police shootings. Whenever you have a new incident of a cop shooting a black, they exclaim: "See, I told you so! How many times does this have to happen before you wake up!"

The problem is that cumulative incidents like that will never reach a tipping point, because it's irrelevant to the nature of the claim. It's parallel to gun opponents who seize on each new shooting spree as if that should be the tipping-point to support gun bans and gun confiscation. Or atheists who seize each new natural disaster as if that should be the tipping-point to renounce Christianity. 

But incidents like that never add up to a tipping-point. In the case of police shootings, in a nation of about 323 million people, there's bound to be police shootings. They will happen with a certain frequency. Indeed, they may happen on a daily basis. That's to be expected. 

Raw numbers don't establish a pattern. If the claim is that cops are targeting blacks, you need to document a pattern. And to document a pattern, you need statistical evidence of a disparity that's not accounted for by rates of criminality. 

ii) To take a comparison, there are about the same number of men and women. However, men are shot by police far more often than women. Is that because cops are targeting men? No, that's because men commit far more violent crimes than women.

iii) By the same token, you have to factor in the disproportionate rate of black criminality, especially among young black males. The percentage of the population is offset by the percentage of offenders. It isn't just percentage of shootings relative to population, but percentage of shootings relative to criminality–which invites altercations between police and perps. 

iv) Speaking of statistics:

Black officers had more than three times greater odds of shooting than white officers. This finding runs counter to concerns that white officers are overrepresented among officers using lethal force, but is consistent with numerous previous studies of officer race and police use-of-force.

v) In addition, in many big cities, you have black mayors, black city councilmen, black police chiefs, black District Attorneys, as well as black, Asian, and Latino police. Therefore, to try to blame the disparity on systematic white racism is implausible.


  1. Evidence to consider - multi-year analysis recently published -

  2. Blacks are 23.8 percent less likely to be shot by police, relative to whites. Hispanics are 8.5 percent less likely to be shot but the coefficient is statistically insignificant.

    Rows (2) through (6) add various controls, identical to those in table 1D. Accounting for basic suspect or officer demographics, does not significantly alter the raw racial differences. Including encounter characteristics – which one can only accomplish by hand coding the narratives embedded in arrests reports – creates more parity between blacks and non-black non-Hispanic suspects, rendering the coefficient closer to 1. Finally, when we include whether or not a suspect was found with a weapon or year fixed effects, the coefficients still suggest that, if anything, officers are less likely to shoot black suspects, ceteris paribus, though the racial differences are not significant.

    Including all controls available from the taser sample, table 5 shows that black civilians are 30.9 percent less likely to be shot with a pistol (rather than a taser) relative to non-black suspects.