Police more likely to use force on blacks than whites, study shows


— A think tank study of thousands of incidents where law enforcement interactions turned forceful concluded blacks are much more likely to be involved than other groups. The Center for Policing Equity report, released Friday, found the average rate of using force among blacks to be 3.6 times as high as among whites, and 2.5 times as high as the overall rate.

Bodily contact was the most common use of force option, the researchers noted, with Tasers second. Tasers have become up to 18 times more common than deadly weapons.

Overall, police officers employed force in less than 2% of all interactions, the team estimated.

“Use of force” has been defined by the International Association of Chiefs of Police as “the amount of effort required by police to compel compliance by an unwilling subject.” Yet, there is no single, accepted definition among analysts, researchers or police, who receive guidance by their separate agencies.

Generally, force is seen as necessary only under specific circumstances, such as self-defense or defense of a person or group, according to the National Institute of Justice.

For the report, the Center for Policing Equity analyzed data collected between 2010 and 2015 from 11 large and middle-sized cities and one urban county. The communities are geographically diverse, and five of the 11 are racially and ethnically diverse. The research team looked at more than 19,000 use-of-force incidents.

The researchers cautioned against overgeneralizing their results “because we do not know very much about what residents did during the interactions that turned forceful.” Also, the number of police departments studied was relatively small, they noted. The analysis is not based on a nationally representative sample.

Still, they found “robust racial disparities that disadvantaged blacks” exist. Use of force rates averaged 273 per every 100,000 blacks compared to 76 per every 100,000 whites. Rates among Hispanics, Asians and other minorities were lower than those of both whites and blacks.

A Bureau of Justice Statistics Police-Public Contact Survey similarly found less than 2% of respondents said they experienced, during their most recent police encounter, either threat or use of nonfatal force by police. Importantly, the BOJ study was based on interviews with citizens instead of police department reports.

“That’s the big takeaway that we wanted from our report — it’s is a rare occurrence,” said Shelley S. Hyland, a statistician for the Bureau of Justice Statistics. “It’s hard for people to understand that when there’s a lot of attention on severe incidents of force that happen.”

Overall, Hyland and her team found 44 million Americans reported having one or more face-to-face contacts with police between the years 2002 and 2011.

During street stops, 14% of blacks and 6.9% of whites recalled an experience of force, the BOJ statisticians discovered. Blacks (3.5%) were more likely to experience nonfatal force during their most recent contact with police than either whites (1.4%) or Hispanics (2.1%).

People who had multiple contacts with the police were more likely to report an experience of force, the researchers found.

Nearly three-fourths of those who said police used force described it as “excessive.” As described by respondents, use of force included shouting, cursing, pushing or grabbing, hitting or kicking, pepper spray, Taser or pointing a gun.

“Overall, the statistics aren’t terribly different,” said Hyland. She added that since the BOJS survey is based on in-person interviews, it captures the victim’s perspective and includes lesser forms of force, such as verbal threats.