Study reports racial disparities regarding police use of force

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A study published by the Center for Policing Equity on Friday found that racial differences are often linked to the use of force by police.

The research group, which included UC Berkeley public policy professors Steven Raphael and Jack Glaser, studied data from 12 police departments across the U.S. — all with different racial and ethnic demographics and different rates of crime. Of the 19,269 total incidents reported by these departments from 2010 to 2015, police were 2.5 times more likely to use force on Black residents than on average and 3.6 times more likely than on white residents.

According to chair of the Berkeley Police Review Commission George Perezvelez, use of force is “the involvement of physical restraint from a member of law enforcement to gain control of an unruly person or situation.” He added that use of force could include anything from arrests to firing shots.

The study refuted the claim that racial disparities are caused by higher rates of crime within different demographics and suggested that researchers and police officers should look at racial disparities in situations such as resistance and officers perception of danger to see if they explain differences in use of force. Researchers also noted that the results from this study should not be overgeneralized, because the data came from such a small number of departments.

The study also discussed that Tasers are the second most common weapon of force for a large percentage of departments and “deserves significantly more public and scholarly attention.”

Recent instances of police use of force have brought issues of racism in policing to national attention. On Monday, UC Berkeley students held a vigil on Sproul Plaza for lives lost to police violence.

“There might be some questions on whether some members of the community feel as though they are stopped more than others,” Perezvelez said. “I have been in the Police Review Commission for 10 years and have been chair for eight years and I have not seen excessive use of force in a number that would be alarming.”

Perezvelez noted that departments should focus on sensitivity training, bias training and community outreach to reduce policing bias. He added that departments have “an obligation” to fill out use of force reports regardless of the size of the incident.

The study concluded with three main points — the findings might be generalized, additional factors should be taken in account when explaining racial disparities in use of force, and communities need to begin focusing on the rising use of Tasers in police encounters. The researchers hope the findings can “produce new insights into old problems” by giving communities the information to address these problems and make a change.

“The point is not to say that police are evil or bad,” Perezvelez said. “It is that the practice is bad. You say you are not biased but the data says otherwise and this is how to change it. That’s what this should do. It should be the trigger which starts the conversation for change.“


Contact Simmone Shah at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @simmoneshah.