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Crime is Insufficient: Explaining Racial Disparities in Use of Force

Wed, Nov 15, 12:30 to 1:50pm, Marriott, Room 306, 3rd Floor

Abstract

To the degree that there is a dominant narrative among police executives about racial disparities in use of force, it is the same as the dominant narrative around racial disparities in policing in general: They are unfortunate, they are unintentional, and they stem mostly from racial disparities in crime rates. This paper uses data from the Center for Policing Equity’s National Justice Database to investigate these claims, benchmarking racial disparities in use of force against demographics of local arrest rates. Drawing on standardized data from more than a dozen law enforcement departments from geographically and demographically diverse locations, our findings reveal that racial disparities in police use of force persist even when controlling for racial distribution of local arrest rates. These disparities are robust across multiple categories of force (hand weapon, OC spray, and Tasers). Given that the narrative that crime is the primary driver of racial disparities is not supported by these analyses, scholars and practitioners should look at racial disparities in other situational factors (e.g., resistance, drug and alcohol use, and officer perceptions of dangerousness) to determine whether or not they explain racial disparities in force.

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