Academic journal article Atlantic Economic Journal

Do #AllLivesMatter? an Evaluation of Race and Excessive Use of Force by Police

Academic journal article Atlantic Economic Journal

Do #AllLivesMatter? an Evaluation of Race and Excessive Use of Force by Police

Article excerpt

Introduction

There is a lot of anecdotal evidence showing African-Americans (both men and women) are more likely to be subjected to excessive use of force by police than are people of other races. The names Eric Gamer, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and Sandra Bland are all too familiar to the public. Recent incidents added the names Alton Sterling and Philando Castile to that list. Another incident occurred in Chicago in October 2014 when 17-year-old African-American male Laquand McDonald was shot 16 times by a white police officer. Protests over the lack of action by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) and the subsequent release of the video, after 400 days of the shooting, led Mayor Rahm Emanuel to authorize a review of the department by the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force (2016). The task force released its report in April 2016, having found that the CPD has systemic problems with racism and that the McDonald shooting was not the only incident of an officer-involved shooting of an African-American. The task force analysis of the CPD found that African-Americans are more likely to have been shot, more likely to have been tasered, and more likely to have been subjected to traffic stops and vehicle searches than people of other races. In January 2017, the Department of Justice issued a report that found racial disparities in use of force and deficiencies in accountability practices plagued the CPD.

It is against this backdrop that we want to evaluate whether African-Americans are really subject to more adverse police behavior. This study questions whether African-Americans are more likely to experience excessive use of force by police, controlling for a variety of factors including individual demographics, officer characteristics, and location. Research on the excessive use of force in the economics literature is scarce. (1) Fryer (2016) was the first to really delve into this issue by going down to the granular level of police-citizen interactions. His findings came from several robust datasets, including the Police-Public Contact Survey, police narratives, and data from ten police departments in three states. He found that race is a factor in use of force incidents, but not in officer-involved shootings. One of the concerns of this study was that because the data came directly from police narratives, there was a possibility that the information did not accurately portray the incidents in question. Police narratives have been shown to favor officers in officer-involved shootings as well as in other examples of excessive use of force by police (Balko 2016). Our study is different from Fryer's study because we use data from a unique dataset on citizen complaints to the CPD, which we use to gain evidence of excessive use of force, although our results can only speak to the likelihood of excessive use of force complaints relative to other types of complaints. Our findings highlight the importance of understanding the role of both race and police culture as factors in adverse police behavior.

Racial Bias and Policing

If police do exhibit racial bias, we have to understand the motivation and the nature of how that bias occurs. Trying to elicit the nature of police bias has been the subject of much debate in [recent] economics literature. Knowlcs et al. (2001) developed a model of motorist and police behavior as a means of explaining racial bias in policing. In their model, police have to determine whether to stop a motorist to see if that person is hiding drugs or other illegal contraband. Their study showed that if there is no discrimination on the part of law enforcement, then the proportion of searches yielding contraband should be equal across all races. They tested their model using data on vehicle searches in Maryland. They found no evidence of racial prejudice. This spawned further work on racial bias in policing. Anwar and Fang (2006) expanded the model to allow for heterogeneity in trooper behavior by looking at trooper characteristics and by incorporating other factors about the motorists aside from race. …

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