Sunday, September 8, 2019
Data on Police Shootings
These efforts have revealed that US police kill about 1,100 citizens a year, which is twice what the FBI counted under its old system. With this expanded dataset it is possible to explore many sorts of variation. One thing that jumps out is regional and local variation; the rate of police killings in Arizona is four times what it is in Illinois.
One thing experts are fighting about right now is the exact mechanism of the disparity. I mean, racism is surely behind this at some level, but how? There is some evidence that black Americans are several times more likely to be stopped by the police than whites, so it may be that the chance any given encounter will lead to violence might be no more, or even less, for blacks, and the rate of killings is just higher because there are more encounters. But since the data on who the police stop and question is very poor, it's hard to say. Those local disparities also come into play; more blacks may live in the sort of high crime, high violence neighborhoods where the police are on hair-trigger alert. Because while some cops are just brutal and violent, most shootings happen because the officers are scared. Maybe they are more scared than they should be, and quicker to reach for their guns than they should be, but more than 50 cops are shot and killed each year, so the risk to them is real.
The root cause, I believe, is a breakdown in trust between the police and the people they are supposed to be protecting, and since that is a reflection of a general breakdown in how much Americans trust each other, it is going to be a hard problem to solve.