There’s been much talk this week about a new study from Harvard economics professor Roland Fryer on racial bias in police shootings. Much news coverage has focused on the study’s surprising-to-some conclusion that racial bias doesn’t factor into police use of lethal force, at least in the city of Houston once the officer has stopped a civilian. The most pertinent flaw in the study is the same flaw in any study that relies on police reports: It relies on police reports, Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post
The problem is that nearly all the data we have on incidents involving police officers using lethal force comes from reports written by police officers, and nearly all of those reports were written by the officers who were actually involved in those incidents. If we were to compile statistics on medical mistakes in an effort to improve the state of medicine, we wouldn’t get all of our data from written statements by the accused doctors or hospitals. Balko writes. If we wanted to compile data on conflicts of interest in politics, we wouldn’t rely on politicians to self-report and adjudicate when their vote may have been influenced by a campaign donation. That is essentially what we do with shootings by police officers.