OPINION: Attacks On Police Do Nothing But Harm

John Lott | President, Crime Prevention Research Center

Lots of Democrats are making it clear that they don’t trust the police. This past week, Andrew Gillum, Democrat gubernatorial nominee in Florida, claimed: “At the time that a law enforcement official has to go to a weapon, to a gun, to a baton, to a taser, then they have already have to go too far by their very presence.”

Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who is running for the Senate in Texas, created a ruckus when he described police as the “new Jim Crow.” Others, such as Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, regularly call for an “end [to] over-policing in African-American neighborhoods.”

Gillum also said that police were responsible for “repairing the breach” in the black community’s lack of confidence in police.

The news media has helped create a biased perception of systematic racial bias by police. In a study, the Crime Prevention Research Center finds that when a white officer kills a suspect, the media usually mentions the race of the officer. This is rarely true when the officer is black.

Democrats such as Gillum and O’Rourke paint a bleak picture of relations between black people and the police, but there is other evidence based on behavior that, overall, black people trust police at least as much as whites do.

A Quinnipiac survey last year in New York City found that black people were 11 percent more likely to approve of the police in their neighborhood than of the NYPD as a whole. The police that black people know best, they like.

If Gillum is right that black people really believe that police are racist, one may think that black victims would be less likely to report crimes committed against them. After all, they may doubt the commitment of the officers to solving the crimes. They may think that officers will engage in profiling and arrest an innocent black suspect.

But black people don’t shy away from reporting crimes to the police. Our report, comparing Department of Justice survey data to crimes reported to the police, shows that from 2008 to 2012, black people were actually more likely than white people to report violent crimes committed against them to the police — 9 percent more likely than whites (54 percent to 45 percent).

That higher rate of reporting applies to all income groups and to both urban and suburban areas. And it’s not just that black people report more crime because they experience more of it. This higher rate of reporting even holds true in areas where whites face higher violent crime rates than black people do. 

This trust appears to be well-placed. White police officers aren’t killing defenseless black people just because they can.

We found 2,699 police shootings from 2013–2015. We couldn’t rely on FBI data, which consists of cases voluntarily provided by police departments. The FBI lists only 1,366 suspect deaths over the same 3-year period. Our more comprehensive list comes from use of Lexis/Nexis, Freedom of Information Act requests, internet news searches and several online databases.

The FBI database not only misses half of these cases, it also misses important information that is necessary to understanding why the officers resorted to deadly force, such as whether the suspect was armed or killed while in the act of committing a crime.

The FBI disproportionately includes cases from heavily minority areas, giving a misleading picture of the frequency at which black people are shot.

Our estimates also account for violent crime rates, demographics of the city and police department, characteristics of the suspect and officer, the rate at which police in the state are killed, the educational requirements of the department, and many other factors. This is confusing — “account for” and “estimates” suggest an analysis. Surely better to say that your database also notes these factors for each shooting

The black officers that we identified were more likely to kill black suspects than were their white colleagues, but the differences were not always statistically significant, meaning that we can’t be sure they were real. At the very least, there’s no evidence of white officers disproportionately shooting black people.

Fortunately, there are steps that we can take to try to reduce the killings. When more police are present at the scene, suspects face reduced odds of being killed. The difference is about 14 to 18 percent for each additional officer.

Officers may feel more vulnerable if they are alone at the scene, making them more likely to resort to deadly force. By the same token, suspects are more likely to be emboldened and resist arrest when fewer officers are present.

Many support requiring that officers wear body cameras. A survey of 900 police departments, 162 of which reported their officers used body cameras. But police acted the same regardless of whether they are wearing the cameras.

The Obama administration argued that fear of being recorded would give many officers pause before misbehaving, but that only matters if the officers are misbehaving.

This rhetoric is dangerous. Falsely scaring black people into believing that police are systematically racist will make black people less willing to go to police when they are victims of crime. That, in turn, means lower arrest rates for criminals and thus more crime. It means that the very communities that Gillum claims to care about will be the ones who are hurt.

Democrats are contributing to a dangerous fiction that prejudiced white officers are going out and disproportionately killing black men. But that doesn’t mean that measures can’t be taken to reduce police shootings. The most obvious step would be to increase the number of officers, in the hopes that more will be present at the scenes of these incidents.

Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recently of “The War on Guns.”


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

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