Race, Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings

By Stephen K. Rice; Michael D. White Roberts | Go to book overview

Chapter 15

Blind Justice
Police Shootings in Memphis

James J. Fyfe

The literature on police use of deadly force1 has produced two major findings. First, researchers report extreme variation in rates of police shooting among American jurisdictions.2 Second, regardless of its geographic scope, the research invariably reports that the percentage of police shootings involving black victims far exceeds the percentage of blacks in the population.3 This chapter examines factors affecting both of these findings.


I. Interjurisdictional Variations

Attempts to identify sources of interjurisdictional shooting rate variation have produced mixed results. Milton suggests that differences among shooting rates are associated with differences in levels of community violence and risk to officers.4 Kania and Mackey, in an attempt to test two related hypotheses, report strong associations between fatal police shooting rates and public homicide and arrest rates over the 50 states.5 Despite flaws in the data employed by Kania and Mackey,6 their thesis, that shootings are associated with community violence and risk to officers, is supported by Fyfe. He reports close associations between police shooting rates and arrest and homicide rates across the geographic subdivisions of a single large police jurisdiction, where internal organizational policies and practices which might influence shooting rates are presumably constant.7 The relative influence upon police shooting rates of such internal policies and practices is suggested by Kiernan, who found that police shooting rates among nine American cities vary by as much as 1500% even when controlling for a measure of community violence and police exposure to shootings (arrests for violent felonies).8

Kiernan's suggestion that police internal organizational variables also affect shooting rates is reinforced by Uelman, who reports that the major determinants of the levels of police shooting in the California agencies he studied were the “personal philosophies” of police chiefs and the administrative controls they devised.9 Thus, varia-

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