Friday, September 05, 2014

Deadly force and race

An interesting study on the use of deadly force by police found that participants (an earlier study used policemen) felt more threatened by black suspects but were slower to pull the trigger on them than they were on white or hispanic suspects. In consequence, the rate of one type of error (shooting at innocent suspects) was lower, and the rate of the other (failing to shoot in time at a baddie) was higher.
James’ study is a follow-up to one in which she found active police officers, military personnel and the general public took longer to shoot black suspects than white or Hispanic suspects. Participants were also more likely to shoot unarmed white suspects than black or Hispanic ones and more likely to fail to fire at armed black suspects.

"In other words," wrote James and her co-authors, "there was significant bias favoring blacks where decisions to shoot were concerned."

This seems to make sense if both the sense of threat and the delay in analyzing the situation both stem from unfamiliarity with the body language and clothing signals. I'd guess the more unfamiliarity, the more delay.

I'd like to see if this is symmetric; if blacks have a similar delay vis-a-vis hispanics, for instance. I'm not sure if "white culture" is ubiquitous enough to provide enough familiarity: quite a few people I've known have lived in relative bubbles. If it isn't symmetric, then I'd start looking at the effects of social expectations on behavior. But I guess there'd be a similar effect.

Statistics show that police shoot ethnic and racial minorities disproportionately to their population.

But the last comprehensive look at the racial makeup of justifiable and non-justifiable shootings was a 2001 study using more than two decades of U.S. Bureau of Justice data, said James. And while statistics show black suspects are shot at more frequently than white suspects, the 2001 study found black suspects were also as likely to shoot at police as be shot at.

Recall that this most recent study was not of law officers, but ordinary citizens.

When confronted by an armed white person, participants took an average of 1.37 seconds to fire back. Confronted by an armed black person, they took 1.61 seconds to fire and were less likely to fire in error. The 240-millisecond difference may seem small, but it’s enough to be fatal in a shooting.

I got to be in one of those situation simulators when I participated in the local "Citizen's Academy" program. We were informed that we novices were allowed to hold the "weapon" at ready, but the police had to keep it holstered and draw. We weren't all that fast. It turns out a lot of bad things can happen in a second--one way or another.

I wonder what the followups will show.


Assistant Village Idiot said...

Fascinating. I'm sending this to a few friends.

Texan99 said...

This really is amazing.