About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

October 10, 2014

Police-involved shootings and hispanics

I asked Jim, my Dominican-born Austin-raised San Francisco-living white friend, why he thought so many Californian cities were high on my PIHN list. He thought for a very few short seconds and answered, "because hispanics aren't violent but police think they are."

I love over-generalizations and stereotypes that could very well be true.

So I got black and hispanic percentages for my 40 cities and ran correlations to see if there was anything related with race, hispanic, the city's homicide rate, the police-involved homicide rate, and PIHN.

More blacks in a city correlates with a higher homicide rate but not significantly with the rate of police-involved homicides. That last part is surprising.

A higher hispanic percentage in a city correlates with a lower homicide rate (which shouldn't be surprisingly, unless you only listen to Fox News) and is also not related to the rate of police-involved shootings. OK.

Of course a high homicide rate correlates very much more police-involved shootings (that I knew, and is the whole reason behind this PIHN idea).

And black and hispanic percentages in cities both correlate with PIHN, and in opposite directions. More hispanics mean a higher PIHN. More blacks a lower PIHN. Another way to look at this is to say that hispanics live in less violent cities, but those cities do not see the expected correlated decrease in police-involved shootings.

Now this might be counterintuitive to some, but it makes sense if once thinks of all the flack police can get when they shoot a black person (even an armed person who shot at police). For better and for worse, perhaps cities with more blacks are better organized to complain about police-involved shootings. Sure, these protests piss off police, but they could also lead to better training, fewer police-involved shootings, and police less likely to pull the trigger.

How often do whites or hispanics complain after a questionable shooting? Not so much.

So could police be disproportionately killing hispanics? Seems possible... but turns out not really.

In trigger-happy Riverside, which is 52 percent hispanic and 6 percent black -- if the data is accurate -- hispanics are not overrepresented in police-involved shootings (68 over 15 years). Other than the massive number of police-involved homicides, nothing jumps out at me. When hispanic-or-not is listed (80 percent of the time), 36 percent of those killed by police are listed as hispanic. 13 of the 68 were black (disproportionately but not unexpectedly high).

In Mesa, which is 28 percent hispanic and has only 3 blacks (just kidding, Mesa is 3 percent black), police killed 40 people over 15 years. Only one of the 40 was black. When ethnicity was listed, about one-third of those killed were hispanic.

I also looked at San Diego and Dallas, and could find nothing that stood out. So this seems to be a bit of a dead end. It's also entirely possible that hispanics are listed as non-hispanic for whatever reason. I don't know.

Basically, if there's any conclusion to be reached, it seems that in cities with a lot of Mexicans, whites are more likely to get shot and killed by police. This isn't what I really expected. Though it's not hard to imagine a lot of poor messed-up whites living in trailer parks in the desert, maybe I watched too much Breaking Bad.

Any ideas? (Especially ones that aren't particularly statistically advanced.)


Anonymous said...

Just googling...the Riversid police chief is Hispanic. And maybe a majority of the cops there are Hispanic.

So maybe there is some kind of cultural reason that Hispanic cops are more violent, but they are more reluctant to shoot fellow Hispanics relatively speaking.

PCM said...

I don't know. I instinctively do not believe a cop of any certain race is less likely to shoot somebody of that race, but I don't know.

PCM said...

My wife suggests that maybe out west more cops are veterans, some with combat experience and PTSD. More likely to shoot. I don't know. Nor do I know how to find out if more cops out west are veterans.