Harvard professor study finds racial bias in police use of force - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Harvard professor study finds racial bias in police use of force, but not shootings

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A study released by a Harvard professor this month found no evidence of racial bias in police shootings, but did find officers are more likely to interact physically with non-whites. 

Harvard economics professor Roland G. Fryer Jr. told The New York Times the results of his study for the National Bureau for Economic Research were "the most surprising of my career."

The study examined thousands of incidents at 10 large police departments in California, Florida and Texas and found that police were no more likely to shoot non-whites than whites after factoring in extenuating circumstances. Fryer did add his study found blacks and Hispanics were more than 50 percent more likely to experience interactions with police, including touching, pushing, handcuffing, drawing a weapon, and using a baton or pepper spray.

The study relied on reports filled out by police officers and on police departments willing to share those reports. The recent videos of police shootings have led to questions about the reliability of such accounts, but according to The Times, the results were largely the same whether or not Mr. Fryer used information from narratives by officers.

While reviewing officer-involved shootings in these cities, Fryer's data found officers were more likely to fire their weapons without having first been attacked when the suspects were white.

In fact, the Houston Police Department let the researchers look at reports not only for shootings but also for arrests when lethal force might have been justified, and found officers were about 20 percent less likely to shoot if the suspects were black, but did add additional data would be needed for firmer conclusions. 

Roland Fryer Jr.

The study examined a larger pool of shootings, including nonfatal ones, but did not say whether the most recent examples in Baton Rogue or Minnesota are free of racial bias. Those deaths, which are under review, spurred a sniper attack on police last week in Dallas during a Black Lives Matter march that left five officers dead and seven injured.

The 25-year-old gunman, Micah Xavier Johnson, told negotiators he wanted to take out white people, especially officers. He was killed after Dallas police detonated a remote-control robot in his vicinity after he refused for hours to exit a college building.

Fryer emphasized to The Times that the work is not the definitive analysis of police shootings, and that more data would be needed to understand the country as a whole. In addition, his study focused only on what happens once the police have stopped civilians, not on the risk of being stopped at all. A study by the Department of Justice in 2013 showed that blacks were more likely to get stopped than whites and Hispanics, and both blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be searched than whites. 

"The importance of our results for racial inequality in America is unclear," Fryer said in his conclusion. "It is plausible that racial differences in lower level uses of force are simply a distraction and movements such as Black Lives Matter should seek solutions within their own communities rather than changing the behaviors of police and other external forces."

The Department of Justice spent two years studying the Spokane Police Department and in December 2014 released their findings and recommendations for reform. Following the findings by the DOJ, the City of Spokane and the Spokane Police Department said they are committed to implementing all forty-two recommendations by this September. 

A study released last year by Eastern Washington University and the Spokane Police showed racial minorities were more likely to be stopped in our area. The study, which analyzed 7,021 police contacts from March to August 2014, found black Spokane residents made up 6 percent of police contacts in spite of being only 2.5 percent of the population. Native Americans were also over-represented, at 3 percent of police contacts versus 1.7 percent of the general population.

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