Now Here’s the Problem, Let’s Do Something About It!

Unknown“A new academic study that builds on Washington Post research into fatal shootings by police has found that unarmed black men were shot and killed last year at disproportionately high rates and that officers involved may be biased in how they perceive threats.

‘The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black.”

“The study,’Fatal Shootings By US Police Officers in 2015: A Bird’s Eye View,’ was conducted by criminal justice researchers from the University of Louisville and the University of South Carolina. It is being reviewed for academic publication and will be shared this week with members of the Major Cities Chiefs Police Association, which includes officials from departments in the 50 largest cities and metropolitan areas.

“In 2015, The Post documented 990 fatal shootings by police, 93 of which involved people who were unarmed. Black men accounted for about 40 percent of the unarmed people fatally shot by police and, when adjusted by population, were seven times as likely as unarmed white men to die from police gunfire, The Post found.

“Researchers, who used data collected by The Post, found that when other factors are considered, the racial disparity persists, but it is lower — twice the rate for unarmed black men compared with unarmed white men. Researchers adjusted for the age of the person shot, whether the person suffered from mental illness, whether the person was attacking a police officer and for the crime rate in the neighborhood where the shooting occurred.

“’The only thing that was significant in predicting whether someone shot and killed by police was unarmed was whether or not they were black,’ said Justin Nix, a criminal justice researcher at the University of Louisville and one of the report’s authors. ‘Crime variables did not matter in terms of predicting whether the person killed was unarmed’

“In the study, researchers wrote that their analysis of the 990 fatal shootings in 2015 ‘suggests the police exhibit shooter bias by falsely perceiving blacks to be a greater threat than non-blacks to their safety…’”

Read the full story HERE.


A  recent example that is all too familiar:

LAKE HALLIE, Wis. (AP) — A police officer fatally shot a developmentally disabled woman inside a western Wisconsin Wal-Mart after she refused to drop a hatchet she had grabbed from a shelf, authorities say.

Chippewa County Sheriff Jim Kowalczyk said the woman was shopping with chaperones Friday at the store in Lake Hallie, between Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls. The sheriff said Lake Hallie police were called around 5 p.m. after she grabbed a hatchet from a sporting goods department shelf and began swinging it, using it on pillows and other items before officers showed up.

He said police arrived and ordered her to drop the hatchet.

“She did not cooperate, and then apparently lunged at the officer, and he did what he is trained to do, and shot her,” Kowalczyk said Friday…

“[T]he woman became disruptive when it was time to leave the store.

“‘The escorts who were responsible for her were making sure that people were not affected and advising people to step back as they tried to escort her out of the store,’ Kowalczyk said…”

Read the full story HERE.




  1. Chief, I have no doubt the report is well-researched and accurate. As a graduate of several courses at SPI and NCPI, I have trust in the UofL researchers who developed this report and applaud Chief Stephens for making the report available for discussion at the May meeting of the Major Cities Chiefs Association.
    However, not privy to the complete report, I am curious to know if those researchers considered what drove the officers to react beyond the supposition those officers were biased toward Blacks in this regard. What were the factors that drove their collective reactions?


  2. I will limit my comments on the study until I have had an opportunity to read the article. I will make a general comment though; prediction means only that knowing one variable enables you to predict the value of another variable at some level of certainty. Prediction is not causation. Another unmeasured variable may be the cause of the dependent variable (DV in this study: shooting unarmed blacks).

    As to bias, officer bias, when it has been measured, was similar to that of the larger population (not surprising). Rigorous training has been found to obviate the effects of bias in shoot-don’t shoot training scenarios.

    The sucking chest wound in all research concerning disproportionate enforcement is the lack of data on target population behavior. If you were to believe that NFL referees were biased against teams that wore red uniforms you could determine if that was the case. Each team has eleven players on the field and the simple probability would be that each team should receive the same number of penalties. We know though that simple probabilities aren’t sufficient to explain human behavior.

    We could measure the actual number of offenses committed by players. Every square inch of the playing field is recorded from various angles. A panel of subject matter experts could review the videos from each game and determine the number of actual offenses. We could even go as far as also assessing the likely field of view of referees on the field to determine if they disproportionately watch one team or ignore offenses by one team. We could determine if teams that wore red uniforms violated rules more frequently. We could also then determine if penalties called were disproportionate to actual offenses.

    The law of requisite variety establishes that the complexity of the solution to a problem must match the complexity of the problem. Human behavior is complex and to try to explain that behavior with one simple variable will take us to a solution that lacks the complexity to solve the problem.


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