Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Houston police shootings: 'Discriminatory,' but not 'Biased'?

Police shootings in Houston may not directly result from racial bias, according to academic analyses of data from Houston PD, but they do occur in a statistically discriminatory fashion. That's because officers' intent cannot be proven but the results are wildly disparate. This excerpt from a new academic article from Jeffrey Fagan and Daniel Richman described the two analyses and how they differ:
Research by Professor Roland Fryer examining police use of force in Houston, one of the nation’s largest cities, shows a nearly 50% greater incidence of use of force by police in encounters with Black or Latino persons but no disparity by race in shootings by police. Justin Feldman’s subsequent analyses of Professor Fryer’s Houston results showed that, in fact, Blacks were nearly five times more likely to be shot relative to Whites and Latinos were nearly twice as likely to be shot relative to Whites. Professor Fryer searched for evidence of racial bias in police shootings in Houston, using statistical models to identify intentional bias. He found none. Feldman’s analyses of the same data examined statistical discrimination — or disparate treatment of Black and Latino suspects by police in their use of force — and showed large racial disparities. Overall, the evidence of racially disparate police enforcement across cities reinforces longstanding beliefs among Black citizens about disparate treatment at the hands of the police and helps spread a narrative of an uneven burden that Black citizens bear in police–citizen encounters.
The authors explain the two studies' different conclusions by pointing out that they were analyzing two different things - "statistical discrimination" vs. "racial bias" - offering this explanation in a footnote: "Statistical discrimination reflects differences in the rates of an event by race, after controlling for race-specific and plausible nonrace factors that might explain such differences. Racial bias looks for evidence of intent to discriminate, independent of evidence of racial disparities."

If the outcome is that discriminatory ("Blacks were nearly five times more likely to be shot relative to Whites"), it's hard to know whether the public should be comforted by the concurrent finding that the discriminatory outcomes weren't generated by "bias." In essence, Prof. Fryer was positing HPD officers' good intentions, while Prof. Feldman lamented that they were the type with which the road to Hell is paved.

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

I'd be curious to know if there's any research regarding the propensity of minority citizens to engage in confrontational behavior vis a vis the police. Obviously there are certain behaviors that increase the odds of an officer utilizing deadly force--not following instructions, fighting, not keeping your hands in sight, and producing a weapon would all seem to increase the odds of ratcheting up the scale in regard to the use of force. Instead of focusing entirely on the conduct of the officers, it would be interesting to see the flip side.

Anonymous said...

Anon 07:20:00 PM,
this has been studied in the past but groups that advocate for minorities don't like the results so the results get buried.

Anonymous said...

Were the arrest records of the fatalities considered by the researchers?

www.facebook.com/GetOutOfTexasPrisons said...

Very interesting counter observations, I must say, as a former 20+ yr veteran of TDCJ-ID housing with radically dangerous black and Latino men.I'm here to tell you as a group they are fearsome folks who are too dumb to know when to turn off the tough gangster routine. Cops are just scared chickenshits. They pull the trigger to protect their tiny minds.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Probably not, 2:36, but then, neither were they studied by the cops before they shot them.

@7:20, how would you propose someone research that? You aren't really proposing an hypothesis, just a smear. That's not something which could be proven in either direction, it's just a racist talking point - the behaviors you describe are human ones, they're not attributable to one race or the other.

Steven Seys said...

It would be productive, Scott, to study the shootings and other use-of-force episodes by police without the racial demographics to see if there's a trend toward more use of force overall, and what kinds of events triggered the police's violent response.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Steven, we KNOW that use of force episodes trended toward more force overall since at least the mid-aughts. Deaths in police custody DOUBLED between 2005-2015, while crime, arrests, and traffic stops were all declining. There was a drop in 2016, but that's the first year of declines in more than a decade. For more, we discussed this in some detail in the "Suspicious Mysteries" segment on the latest podcast. Amanda Marzullo termed this a rise in the "violent interaction rate," which is a good way to look at it. The number of police shootings per encounter with the public increased significantly.

Also, to the earlier commenters. the study by Prof. Fryer actually purported to take into account all of the detail you're seeking about suspect behavior, etc..

Anonymous said...

@04:12:00 AM, given the end results of that machismo seem to greatly favor the police, maybe some of the training to prevent tragedies should take place while you are incarcerated. However you label the police, they are more likely to survive such encounters with your fellow inmates than the reverse so maybe that could be incorporated as part of an anti-recidivism program.

Grits, hasn't much of what Anon 7:20 suggests already been covered on your website and others? You've discussed the statistics that came out tying the propensity of people with firearms to be more likely shot by the police, those engaged in a felony, etc. a few times on here in recent memory. IIRC, they included a racial component too, the race angle muted when the other factors were accounted for.

Anonymous said...

The only way you can't see bias is if you don't want to see it. If the discriminatory behavior occurs consistently over time it is evidence of inherent and systemic bias. The comments alone here reflect a community that condones and accepts such bias as natural.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 7:02 AM,
the closer one looks at the totality of circumstances, the more most bias can be explained away. You can argue with that until you're blue in the face but the data doesn't lie, those with built in expectations of bias do. Rather than set off on a false narrative to deceive people, wouldn't it make more sense to improve training of officers, educate the public on what used to be commonsense rules for staying alive when dealing with them, and increasing hiring standards & expectations of the officers we employ to serve our communities?