In making snap decisions on whether to shoot a potentially armed suspect, police officers are far less influenced by racial bias than are students or community members forced to make the same decision, says a study reported by the New York Times. The study, based on video simulations of armed and unarmed confrontations, found that racial stereotypes influenced the reaction times of both officers and civilians, but swayed the ultimate decision to fire only among civilian participants.
The findings suggest that the impact of race on police behavior is subtle and is strongly shaped by professional training. The new study, published last week in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, is the first to compare rigorously the influence of race on such life-and-death decisions in officers and in non-officers. The 2004 research included 157 officers from the Denver Police Department, 113 officers from departments around the country, and a diverse group of 245 adults from the Denver area. The police officers and the civilians were drawn to represent blacks, whites and Latinos, but the sample was not nationally representative. Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University who was not involved in the research, called the result a major finding. “It suggests that police officers are far more circumspect than they're usually given credit for,” he said.