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by Peter Moskos

July 14, 2016

Reducing police-involved shooting & "The List"

This past week John McWhorter and I were both (separately) on Bloggingheads.tv with Glenn Loury to talk about race and all the recent shootings. McWhorter emphasized race as a factor of those shot by police and:
challenged those who disagree to present a list of white people killed within the past few years under circumstances similar to those that so enrage us in cases such as what happened to Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Walter Scott, Sam Debose and others.
Well I keep track of these things and through Glenn passed some names on to Professor McWhorter. I give sincere respect to Professor McWhorter for his intellectual honesty today in Time:
The simple fact is that this list exists.
When a black man is killed by a cop, do we grieve more because there are 46 million of us as opposed to 198 million whites? I doubt it: most Americans never hear about the white men’s deaths at all.

Rather, we operate according to a meme under which cops casually kill black men under circumstances in which white men are apparently let off with a hand slap -- and occasional cases of just that are what often get around social media, suggesting that they are the norm.
However, at the end of the day any intelligent engagement with these issues must keep front and center that there was a Daniel Shaver for John Crawford, a Michael Parker for Walter Scott, a James Scott for Laquan McDonald. Economist Roland Fryer’s conclusions, stunning even to him, that cops use more force against black people but do not kill them more than they kill whites is perhaps less perplexing than it seems.
Unlike McWhorter, I was not surprised by Fryer's conclusions. Like McWhorter, "I am neither a neither Republican nor conservative." But unlike McWhorter, I am white. (Though I have written about some of the more egregious cases, it sounds a bit funny to say, Romney like, "I have a binder full of white people!") I don't want to be liked and linked to by racists and the "alt-right".

But I've researched and written about race before. I said, "The idea that police don't use lethal force in a racist way might be a tough pill for many to swallow." But if one wishes to reduce police-involved shootings -- and all of us do; cops don't go to work hoping to shoot somebody -- there are good liberal reasons to de-emphasize the significance of race in policing.

Jonathan Ayers, Andrew Thomas, Diaz Zerifino, James Boyd, Bobby Canipe, Dylan Noble, Dillon Taylor, Michael Parker, Loren Simpson, Dion Damen, James Scott, Brandon Stanley, Daniel Shaver, and Gil Collar were all killed by police in questionable to bad circumstances. McWhorter added Alfred Redwine and Mary Hawkes. You can probably find others from Washington Post data. What they have in common is none were black and very few people seemed to know or care when they were killed.

According to the Washington Post, 990 people were shot dead by police in 2015. 258 were black. More significant than racial differences -- much of which can be explained by racially disproportionate levels of violence -- are stunning regional differences.

Last year in California, police shot and killed 188 people. That's a rate of 4.8 per million. New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania collectively have 3.4 million more people than California (and 3.85 million more African Americans). In these three states, police shot and killed (just?) 53 people. That's a rate of 1.2 per million. That's a big difference.

Were police in California able to lower their rate of lethal force to the level of New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania -- and that doesn't seem too much to ask for -- 139 fewer people would be killed by police. And this is just in California! (And California isn't even the worst state; I'm picking on California because it's large and very much on the high end.)

Now keep in mind most police-involved shootings are not only legally justifiable, they are necessary and good at the moment the cop pulls the trigger. But that doesn't mean that the entire situation was inevitable. Cops don't want to shoot people. They want to stay alive. You give cops a safe way to reduce the chance they have to pull the trigger, and they'll certainly take it.

I really don't know what some departments and states are doing right and others wrong. But it's hard for me to believe that the residents of California are so much more violent and threatening to cops than the good people of New York or Pennsylvania. I suspect lower rates of lethal force has a lot to do with recruitment, training, verbal skills, deescalation techniques, not policing alone, and more restrictive gun laws. (I do not include Tasers on this list.)

If we could bring the national rate of people shot and killed by police (3 per million) down to the level found in, say, New York City (The big bad NYPD shoots and kills just 0.7 per million) we'd reduce the total number of people killed by police 77 percent, from 990 to 231!

[Update: Here are more names worth considering, taken from comments to this post: David Kassick , Josh Grubb and Samantha Ramsey (examples of officer-created danger), John Winkler, Robert Saylor. Zachary Hammond. Sal Culosi. John Geer. Autumn Steele (This is rare case of an unarmed white person shot by a black officer.) Michael McCloskey.

Also, it turns out Bobby Canipe lived. But I'm still including him because, my God.

And it's well worth watching Glenn Loury and John McWhorter talk about The List in a more recent Bloggingheads.tv]


Unknown said...

"But it's hard for me to believe that the residents of California are so much more violent and threatening to cops than the good people of New York or Pennsylvania."

Did some original research. I added the number of police officers feloniously killed (by gunfire, vehicular assault, assault, and stabbing) per Officer Down Memorial Page in California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan for the last five years (2012-2016). I then calculated a rate of officers killed per million population (based on current US Census Bureau estimate) over that entire time period.

19 officer feloniously killed from 2012 to date
39,144,818 population (2015 est)
0.49 officers killed/million population

New York:
10 officer feloniously killed from 2012 to date
19,795,791 population (2015 est)
0.51 officers killed/million population

7 officer feloniously killed from 2012 to date
12,802,503 population (2015 est)
0.55 officers killed/million population

5 officer feloniously killed from 2012 to date
9,922,576 population (2015 est)
0.50 officers killed/million population

hotrod said...

I think Bobby Canipe was wounded, not killed. Agreed to the larger point though.

Adam said...

A few others, some of which we've discussed on this blog:

David Kassick (really disturbing), Josh Grubb and Samantha Ramsey (examples of officer-created danger), John Winkler, Robert Saylor

hotrod said...

Zachary Hammond, Sal Culosi, John Geer were all Caucasian and all were terrible shoots. This could go on for a while. The basic point remains sound.

I thought about my earlier point and I was nitpicking - Bobby Canipe was subjected to clearly deadly force and survived (70 years old and took 6 rounds, at least some in the chest, and survived - geez). So I'll throw in Michael McCloskey who took what was probably a negligent discharge and survived as a paraplegic. Kudos for the cop's aim though - shooting a slightly turned guy in the back straight through the spine is pretty much the definition of center of mass.

hotrod said...

David Kassick disturbing? Nonsense. Everyone should be held accountable for their hand positioning while being tased.

Adam said...

Right? Can you imagine the reaction if David Kassick had been black? And I think it's useful to contrast Bobby Canipe with Levar Jones, who also survived being shot by police, but whose case received national news coverage.

Moskos said...

Liberaltarian, Thanks for that work! Really good to know.
One additional variable to keep in mind: California has far fewer cops per capita.

john mosby said...

But where is the causal arrow between killings of police and killings by police? And does it point the same way in each state?

For example, does California keep down the number of killed police by increasing the number of people the police kill?

Whereas NY keeps its police alive by kinder-gentler methods?

(or it could be the other way around - CA might have even fewer police deaths if they didn't have a rep for killing subjects, thus "forcing" subjects to shoot first, while NY could keep even more cops alive if they'd kill some more skells once in a while....)

Also/alternatively, does California have a different mix of people and situations that really does make its people "more violent and threatening to cops?" I can think of several:

- Mexican border and associated rackets
- Asian "border" and associated rackets
- Car-dominated, spread-out culture, meaning that cops encounter a lot of people they've never seen before, as opposed to what the average NYPD PO encounters on a rather small foot beat or even an RMP beat in an outer borough
- California gang culture may be different
- Rural nature of a lot of California, making for one-man stops, no cavalry coming

Yes, you could refute these point-by-point: NY doesn't have a land border with Mexico, but it has an air border with the rest of Latin America; replace CA Asians with NY Slavics; etc, etc. I'm just trying to say there's a long road between noting the disparity and concluding that NY is doing something that can be identified and emulated in CA.


Phaedrus said...

There are a number of issues with the way Fryer's conclusions are being publicized.

David Ball at RBC does a good job at explaining here.

Essentially, it may be true that a higher percentage of white encounters with police result in death than black encounters with police, but that is completely irrelevant if whites are stopped by police far less often.

Specifically, if a black person is 10 times more likely to be stopped by police but 0.25 times less likely for any individual stop to result in death, it doesn't matter because he's going to have a lot more "opportunities" to face the police than his white counterpart over his lifetime and is therefore far more likely to face death over the entire course of all of his encounters.

The "10 times" and the "0.25 times" are not based in reality at all, I was just using numbers for illustration.

Bill Harshaw said...

You're probably constrained by the data, but isn't it generally true that police forces are mostly local, not state, and each locality could in theory at least have very different sets of rules and police cultures? That would lead me to believe the real issue is the variation within the states, not between states.

Anonymous said...

How much of this is driven by money? That is, does California have relatively fewer and worse trained cops because they're not willing to tax and spend (remember Prop 13) at the levels of New York City. Likewise, if you rely on police to be revenue generators via asset forfeitures and collecting petty fines that's likely to make relations with the public more hostile and possibly lead to more violent encounters. It may just be a case of regions getting the quality of police they're willing to pay for.

Unknown said...

I don't think California has any compunction about taxing and spending. I agree that police should not be revenue generators (see: Ferguson, MO). No municipality should have a revenue line item from ticket/fine proceeds that needs to be met in order for said municpality to remain solvent. You want reform? Start there.

Andy D said...

I'm confused about the statement that "more restrictive gun laws" are one of the factors here--is there really a huge difference between NY and CA on gun laws? PA gun laws are likely less restrictive. I just am not sure what that difference would be?

JPP said...

That was my takeaway from Ferguson. Stop towns from being like that.

Moskos said...

Thanks for all those comments. I've updated the post to reflect of those names.

Andy D said...

If you want to see what appears to be an absolutely TERRIBLE shooting of a black person by cops...did you see the one in North Miami with the caregiver of the Autistic man? Now THAT is some inexcusable s&*t.

Unknown said...

How can you reconcile your statement that most police-involved shootings "are necessary and good" with your statistics that NYC has a 77% lower police shooting fatality rate than the nation? Sounds to me like 3/4 or more of shootings are, in some sense, avoidable-- especially given that I'm sure even NYC could do better.

Moskos said...

Good questions. I think it's true at the moment of the shooting. So at that moment most are necessary and good. But I also think most shootings could be avoided, in terms of the situation the lead up to the shooting. So they might be necessary and good. But that doesn't mean they're inevitable.

And I don't think the nation could get down to NYC's level. Still, it's worthy goal.