Monday, December 22, 2014

Police Faster to Shoot Unarmed White Person

With all the protests over police use of force against blacks, it is notable that police are more reluctant to shoot blacks. Police One reports on a Washington State University study published in the Journal of Experimental Criminology:
But a scientific study from Washington State University-Spokane suggests just the opposite. In truth, according to findings from the research team’s innovative experiments:  
• Officers were less likely to erroneously shoot unarmed black suspects than they were unarmed whites — 25 times less likely, in fact 
• And officers hesitated significantly longer before shooting armed suspects who were black, compared to armed subjects who were white or Hispanic 
“In sum,” writes Dr. Lois James, a research assistant professor with the university’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology who headed the study, “this research found that participants displayed significant bias favoring Black suspects” in their shooting decisions. 
* * *
Given the prevailing stereotype that cops are unduly harsh toward black suspects, James acknowledges that the outcome of the experiments was “unexpected.”  
• Reaction time. Her findings reveal that officers took “significantly longer” before they shot black suspects than white suspects. Civilians and soldiers in the study also took longer to shoot blacks, but the hesitation by officers was roughly twice as long as that of the civilians. The delay before shooting was particularly noticeable in the most complex scenarios.  
In contrast, there was “no significant difference in reaction time between shooting Hispanic suspects and White suspects,” James reports.  
“Our primary finding that participants were more hesitant to shoot Black suspects than White or Hispanic suspects is in direct contrast to prior experimental findings that participants are significantly quicker to shoot Black suspects,” she writes.  
• Decision errors. Where officers made errors in James’s study, they were “less likely to shoot unarmed Black suspects than unarmed White suspects,” she writes. Indeed, “we calculated that participants were 25 times less likely to shoot unarmed Black suspects than they were to shoot unarmed White suspects.” Again, this was a significantly greater multiple than was recorded for other groups in the study.  
Unarmed suspects were most likely to be shot in journeyman scenarios (the most difficult), and there was “no significant difference between the likelihood of shooting unarmed Hispanic suspects and unarmed White suspects,” the researchers found. 
Moreover, the officers did not fail to shoot armed white suspects any more frequently than they failed to shoot threatening suspects who were black or Hispanic.  
“These findings are also in direct contrast to [earlier researchers] who found that participants were more likely to shoot unarmed Black suspects and fail to shoot armed White suspects,” James noted.  
These results revealed that racial bias did exist in the officers’ reactions to the scenarios, James writes — ”but in the opposite direction that would be expected from prior experimental studies.” Her tests “showed significant evidence of bias favoring Black suspects, rather than discriminating against them.” 
The article gives more details on how the testing was done in order to make it more realistic than earlier studies.

Other articles on the study: Reason Hit-And-Run blog; Frontpage Magazine

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