A study of the 990 incidents in 2015 in which deadly force was used by police and resulted in death has found that African Americans were more than twice as likely to have been unarmed during the encounter.
The authors of the study, published in the most recent volume of the American Society of Criminology’s Criminology & Public Policy journal, concluded that “implicit bias” was a critical factor leading to a police officer’s failure to judge whether such encounters represented a serious threat.
“Our analysis provides insight as to whether the implicit bias effect manifests itself in the real world where officer safety is an immediate concern,” claimed the study, co-authored by Justin Nix, Bradley A. Campbell and Edward H. Byers of the University of Louisville; and Geoffrey P. Alpert of the University of South Carolina and Griffith University.
“Although we could not determine whether officers were quicker or more likely to fire their weapon at minority suspects, we argue that if minorities were more likely to have not been attacking the police/other civilians, or more likely to have been unarmed, this would indicate the police exhibit implicit bias by falsely perceiving minorities to be a greater threat to their safety.”
The study is one of the first to take advantage of the national database of fatal police shootings compiled by journalists at the Washington Post. Like a similar database created by the Guardian newspaper, it represented the first effort to document the police use of deadly force on a national level.
The authors note that police use of force remains rare—and that fatalities resulting from it are even rarer. But they argue that their findings underline the need for “police departments (to) use training programs and community activities to minimize implicit bias among their officers.” And they call on the federal government to accelerate efforts towards creating a comprehensive national database on such incidents.
The full report is available free until early March at this site.