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by Peter Moskos

October 12, 2014

Black are 4 times more likely than whites to be killed by police

[Update: Cut to the chase. You might just want to read my summary post.]

Related to the "not 21 times" previous post, I received a tweet from one of the authors: "Differences in our methodologies: you count Hispanic homicides as white... deflate the results."

So back to running stats for me. But there's a problem in that the UCR homicide data does a particularly poor job in counting hispanics. Most cities simply do not record hispanic data.

As a result, 56% of homicide data has nothing for "hispanic or not." I would guess that most of this 56% is non-hispanic, since cities without many hispanics are less likely to care about counting hispanics, but we do not know. In general, you really shouldn't use data when half is missing.

[The UCR would like police departments to do like the census: record race and then overlay hispanic-or-not on top of that. (If you're a cop, this is probably how you record domestics.) But I don't think any police department does this. So what the UCR seems to do, for the departments that list hispanic at all, is just call them all white hispanics.]

But if one does exclude hispanic whites from the count of whites over the past three years, one finds all of 9 young white males shot by police over the past three years. If one then uses non-hispanic white for the population denominator, I get a black-to-white ratio of 21:1 [replicated! And updated from the original post].

But what I will quibble about is the validity of that number. It means very little because there's just not enough data.

I mean, one could look at just one year. The last available year, 2012, has a black-to-white ratio for teen males killed by police a less headline worthy 7:1 [13:1 if you exclude hispanic whites]. But you can't just look at one year -- or three. Put bluntly, police don't kill enough teens each year to be statistically useful (which is good news, I suppose).

And since we can look at more years, we should. So if one wants to only look at 15-19 year-olds males shot by police, let's look at the past 15 years. The most shocking result I discover is that a majority of "whites" killed by police are listed as hispanic. (109 versus 95. And overall there are 6.3 million non-hispanic whites and 2.1 million hispanic white males 15-19.)

The overall black-to-white ratio (15-19 year-old males) is 5.5:1. If one removes white hispanics from the sample (I'm not sure you should), the black-to-white killed-by-police ratio goes up 9:1. Though if one removes white hispanics for the overall homicide rate, the overall black-to-white homicide ratio in society goes from 9:1 to 15:1. All this gets a bit silly.

So let's include everybody.

The overall racial disparity in homicides -- and presumably other violent crimes as well (but they're not counted as reliably) -- is 6:1. The racial disparity among police-involved killings is about 4:1 (3.8:1, to be exact). Given the former, I don't find the latter disturbing high (though I suppose reasonable people could disagree).

Here's the thing. We should focus on bad police-involved shootings. And also we should focus on overly aggressive use of less-lethal force. These are issues of training, issues of a relaxing a paranoid "warrior" mindset. Sure, race matters, but if you want to improve policing, you need to move past the idea that police only do bad things to black people. This isn't a black and white issue. It's a police issue.

[It's always good to put a disclaimer in any post related to police-involved shooting. The data, in general, is very limited. That said, some of the UCR data on police-involved homicides is good. While one cannot infer absolute numbers, looking at ratio of included data, such as race, presents much less of a problem, since one is looking a ratio within the data.

[Update: Also, some of the numbers have changed as I've updated and corrected and double-checked figures. Nothing substantively major. But you're not going crazy if you think the actual headline used to 3 times and now it says 4 times (the actual number is 3.8. Using different population figures and/or just making a mistake, I first came up with 3.3).]

1 comment:

benjamin winegard said...

I'd note that the racial disparity in homicide rates between nonhispanic whites and blacks in the age group 15-19 is actually 22.5 to 1 (2 per 100,000 for whites and 45 per 100,000 for blacks) (see Figure 3 here http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=teen-homicide-suicide-and-firearm-deaths#_edn12​)