Report finds racial disparities in police use of force

A report released by the Center for Policing Equity on Friday found that African Americans are more likely than white Americans to be subjected to the use of force by police. University of California at Berkeley Professor Jack Glaser, one of the study’s authors, joins Megan Thompson to talk about growing concerns about racial bias in policing.

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    A report released yesterday by the Center for Policing Equity addresses the growing concerns about racial bias in policing. While most interactions with police in the U.S. end peacefully, the survey of police departments in eleven small and medium-sized cities and one county finds in those jurisdictions, African-Americans have been more likely than white Americans to be subjected to the use of force by police. Looking at 19,000 incidents between 2010 and 2015, researchers found blacks are 3 1/2 times more likely than whites to experience use of force.

    Joining me now from Washington, D.C., is one of the report's authors, Jack Glaser. He's a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley.

    So, first of all, Professor, can you just tell me, when we're talking about use of force what are we talking about exactly?


    That's a really important question, because different departments define it somewhat differently. And that was one of the challenges of this research project was to harmonize data across different departments so that we can meaningfully compare them in terms of what they're identifying as use of force.

    But, generally, what we're talking about is when police use physical force to detain or move or bring into compliance a civilian they're dealing with, and that could arrange from their mere presence as a threat of force, to gentle hands on, to all the way up to tasering and use of lethal force like firearms.


    The report also refutes the notion that this happens more often to more African-Americans because they have more contact with police, right? Can you walk us through that?


    Yes, that is one of the general arguments put up to try to explain a way the racial disparities and use of force, and what we did was to test whether the disparities that we see in the population hold up even when you consider the rates at which African-Americans and other minority groups relative to whites have contact with the police.

    And so, it is above and beyond their higher rate — and they do have higher rates of contact with the police for lots of reasons — but above and beyond their rates of contact with the police, and above and beyond their rates of offending, they are still subject to a disproportionate level of use of force by the police.


    Do we know anything now about what helps explain these racial disparities?


    One thing is probably training. And there are departments around the country, some of which may be included in this data set that have been engaging in very rigorous training on use of force, with several goals that seem to be effective in reducing rates of use of force, one of which is just generally de-escalation and finding more time and distance between the officer and the civilian subject. But another is putting officers through more realistic conditions in which they might encounter and have to use lethal force, so that when they do encounter that, they're a little more accustomed and maybe a little less terrified in the situation and able to use some of their higher-order cognitive functions instead of a pure fight-or-flight response which I think is responsible for a lot of the racial disparities we're seeing in lethal use of force and a lot of cases of lethal force with unarmed subjects.


    How have police departments received your findings so far? I understand you've been meeting and discussing your findings with some police departments.


    In my experience, they're well received. They're glad to have the actual data and to be able to do this comparison across departments so that they have a sense of what they might be doing right or wrong relative to other departments and we can start sharing information about what departments are doing so they can start improving their practices.


    Jack Glaser, professor of public policy at UC-Berkeley, thank you so much for joining us.


    Thank you.

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