New ASU study says there is no racial disparity of police use of deadly force

More from this show

A new study by an Arizona State University researcher shows no racial disparity in police shootings. School of Criminology and Criminal Justice professor William Terrill and other researchers looked at data sets and found no racial disparity on a nationwide basis in police shootings. Terrill will discuss his findings.

Ted Simons: GOOD EVENING AND WELCOME TO "ARIZONA HORIZON." I'M TED SIMONS. SHOOTING INCIDENTS INVOLVING POLICE AND AFRICAN AMERICANS HELPED START THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT AND A NATIONAL DIALOGUE ON RACIAL DISPARITY IN POLICE SHOOTINGS. BUT A NEW ASU STUDY SHOWS NO EVIDENCE OF RACIAL DISPARITY USING DEADLY FORCE. JOINING US NOW IS THE CO-AUTHOR OF THE STUDY, WILLIAM TERRILL. WELCOME TO "ARIZONA HORIZON." GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

William Terrill: THANK YOU.

Ted Simons: SO WHAT ARE WE LOOKING AT, FATAL, NON-FATAL, ARMED, UNARMED? WHAT DOES THE STUDY LOOK AT?

William Terrill: WELL, WE LOOK AT ALL FATAL AND NON-FATAL SHOOTINGS THROUGHOUT THE U.S. ARMED CITIZENS AS WELL UNARMED WHEN THEY ARE REACHING FOR WHAT DEEMED TO BE A HARMLESS OBJECT THAT POLICE DIDN’T SEE AT THE TIME FOR INSTANCE: A CELLPHONE.

Ted Simons: AND THIS IS A NATIONAL STUDY?

William Terrill: IT'S A NATIONAL STUDY. PERSONALLY, I’D LIKE TO POINT OUT MY COAUTHORS, JOE CESARIO AND DAVID JOHNSON AT MICHIGAN STATE. THEY WERE THE TWO LEAD AUTHORS. I'M THE THIRD AUTHOR ON THE STUDY. SO THEY DID A LOT OF HEAVY LIFTING. WE GOT TOGETHER AND SIMPLY, WE WANTED TO ASK WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE BENCHMARK FOR COMPARING POLICE FATAL SHOOTINGS.

Ted Simons: WHAT IS THE APPROPRIATE BENCHMARK?

William Terrill: THE TRADITIONAL BENCHMARK HAS BEEN POPULATION STATISTICS, SO WHAT PROPORTION OF THE POPULATION IF WE SIMPLY BREAK IT DOWN WHITE OR BLACK, IF BLACKS MAKE UP 12 OR 13 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION, WHAT WOULD WE EXPECT IN TERMS OF FATAL POLICE SHOOTINGS? SHOULD WE ONLY EXPECT THAT BLACKS ARE SHOT AND KILLED BY THE POLICE 40% OF THE TIME. WE DIDN'T THINK THAT WAS APPROPRIATE BENCHMARK.

Ted Simons: WHY NOT?

William Terrill: WE HAVE TO LOOK AT RISK, RIGHT? IT GETS BACK TO POLICE/CITIZEN INTERACTIONS EQUAL? AND SO IF WE SPIN THAT FOR A MOMENT IN A MORE SIMPLISTIC WAY AND LOOK AT GENDER, AND WE SAY DO POLICE REACT WITH MALES AND FEMALES AT A SIMILAR RATE? WELL, WE KNOW THEY DON'T. SO WE LOOK AT THE PREVIOUS TWO YEARS, POLICE WERE MORE LIKELY TO SHOOT MEN 23 TIMES MORE LIKELY THAN WOMEN.. SO IS THERE A BIAS THERE? AND WE WOULD SAY NO.

Ted Simons: SO BASICALLY, AGAIN, THE BOTTOM LINE IS THERE IS NO RACIALS DISPARITY, AND YOU ARE TALKING EXPOSURE TO POLICE, CORRECT?

William Terrill: CORRECT.

Ted Simons: IN A CRIMINAL/SUSPECT SETTING?

William Terrill: YEAH, SO WE SAID INSTEAD OF JUST COMPARING FATAL SHOOTINGS BASED ON POPULATION, LET'S LOOK AT SHOOTINGS BROKEN DOWN BY RACE BASED ON SEVERAL MEASURES, ONE BEING HOMICIDE RATES, ONE BEING INVOLVED IN CRIMINAL VIOLENT CRIME, AND OTHER WEAPONS VIOLATIONS. SO WE KIND OF HAVE A TRIANGULATED APPROACH TO LOOKING AT RISK, OR INVOLVEMENT, OR EXPOSURE.

Ted Simons: BUT PEOPLE ARE SAYING WAIT A SECOND, WHITE GUY GRABBING HIS CELL PHONE, IF A BLACK GUY GRABS HIS CELL PHONE, AND A THE BLACK GUY IS MORE LIKELY TO FACE AN AGGRESSIVE RESPONSE. HOW DO YOU RESPOND?

William Terrill: YES. AND WE SIMPLY DIDN'T FIND THAT. THAT DISPARITY DID NOT EXIST.

Ted Simons: IT DID NOT EXIST?

William Terrill: IT DID NOT EXIST.

Ted Simons: I’M THINKING NATIONALLY. I WOULD THINK AFRICAN AMERICANS BEING SHOT IN IDAHO IS NOT AS PREVALENT AS IN OTHER PARTS OF THE COUNTRY, SO THAT HAS TO BE FACTORED IN AS WELL.

William Terrill: YEAH, THIS PROPORTIONATE ASPECT ACROSS CITIES WE’RE NOT ABLE TO GET IT THEN. IT'S HARD TO GET STATISTICS AT THAT LEVEL AND DO ANY KIND OF BROAD-BASED ANALYSES.

Ted Simons: BUT IN A STUDY LIKE THIS, IT SOUNDS AS THOUGH WHAT YOU ARE SAYING IS AFRICAN AMERICANS ENGAGE IN CRIME TO A GREATER EXTENT.

William Terrill: YES.

Ted Simons: AND THAT'S WHAT YOU ARE SAYING?

William Terrill: WE ARE. AND SO THE QUESTION BECOMES IS THERE SOME KIND OF POLICE BUY'S -- BIAS IN TERMS OF THAT. SO WE DIDN'T JUST LOOK AT FBI DATA, WE ALSO LOOK AT CDC DATA, CENTER FOR CONTROL DISEASE DATA, AND SOMETHING CALLED THE NCVS, THE NATIONAL CRIME VICTIMIZATION SURVEY. WHERE CITIZENS ARE SELF REPORTING CRIME AND WE FOUND, AND THIS IS WELL KNOWN TO THE CRIMINOLOGY, A HIGHER RATE OF INCIDENCE IN THIS CRIME, AND THAT TRANSLATES IN OUR STUDY TO DEADLY FORCE.

Ted Simons: ARE THEIR ACCELERATOR ASPECTS TO THIS? IF THE POLICE -- AGAIN, THE WHITE GUY REACHES, THE BLACK GUY REACHES, THE POLICE RESPONSE IS LIKELY TO BE DIFFERENT. DOES THAT ACCELERATE THESE NUMBERS? IS THERE A PLUS OR MINUS HERE THAT IS SIGNIFICANT?

William Terrill: NOT REALLY. NOT WHAT WE FOUND. WE DID 144 DIFFERENT STATISTICAL TESTS, AND WE ONLY FOUND ONE ANTI-BLACK DISPARITY IN THE NUMBERS ACROSS THESE DIFFERENT BENCHMARKS, AND -- AND WE FOUND A LOT OF ANTI-WHITE DISPARITY. NOW, AGAIN, THAT SOUNDS CONTROVERSIAL. IT WAS CONTROVERSIAL TO US AS WELL AS WE WERE GOING THROUGH THE DATA, BUT WHEN YOU LOOK AT EXPOSURE, IT MAKES SENSE THAT THERE IS GREATER INVOLVEMENT IN EXPOSURE RISK. NOT EVERYONE IS HAVING AN EQUAL RISK INTERACTING WITH THE POLICE WITH POTENTIAL DEADLY FORCE.

Ted Simons: SO BECAUSE, YOU ARE SAYING, AFRICAN AMERICANS ENGAGE IN CRIME AT A GREATER RATE, THEY ARE EXPOSED TO POLICE AT A GREATER RATE.

William Terrill: THAT'S CORRECT.

Ted Simons: AND WHEN YOU TAKE AWAY THAT RATE, YOU SEE NO DISPARITY.

William Terrill: THAT'S CORRECT.

Ted Simons: WHEN YOU SEE PURE NUMBERS YOU SEE A BIG DISPARITY TO WHITE PEOPLE, BECAUSE THERE ARE MORE WHITE PEOPLE, CORRECT?

William Terrill: CORRECT. I DON’T WANT TO OVER-DO THE NUMBERS HERE. OVER A THOUSAND -- DURING THIS TWO-YEAR PERIOD, OVER A THOUSAND WHITES WERE SHOT AND KILLED BY THE POLICE, AND 510 BLACKS, SO IT'S DOUBLE THE RATE. NOW I WILL SAY AT THE UNARMED LEVEL, THE NUMBERS ARE SO SMALL. WE SEE THESE INSTANCES IN THE MEDIA OR VARIETY IN THAT FORM. FOR INSTANCE AN UNARMED SUSPECT REACHING FOR A SUSPECT -- OR AN OBJECT SUCH AS A CELL PHONE, NOT A GUN, THERE WERE ONLY 26 CASES WHERE OFFICERS SHOT AND KILLED A WHITE SUSPECT, AND 19 BLACKS, SO THAT'S A VERY SMALL NUMBER, SO WE HAVE TO BE CAREFUL WITH WHAT WE'RE FINDING HERE. YOU KNOW, WE HAVE GREATER CONFIDENCE IN THE OVERALL FATAL SHOOTINGS, LESS CONFIDENCE BECAUSE OF THE SMALL NUMBER OF SHOOTINGS IN UNARMED.

Ted Simons: DID THESE RESULTS SURPRISE YOU?

William Terrill: THEY SURPRISED US TO A DEGREE, BUT IN THE CRIMINAL LOGICAL WORLD WE'RE ALWAYS STRUGGLING FOR WHAT IS THE MORE APPROPRIATE COMPARISON. THIS IS NOT IDEAL COMPARISON POINT. THERE IS NO PERFECT MEASURE. THE PERFECT MEASURE WOULD BE IF WE HAD THE NUMBER OF TIMES THAT SUSPECT BY RACE POSED AN IMMINENT DEADLY THREAT TO A POLICE OFFICER. THOSE TYPES OF VARIABLES SIMPLY DON'T EXIST, SO WE HAVE TO GO WITH PROXIES.

Ted Simons: SO, WHAT KIND OF RESPONSES ARE YOU GETTING TO THIS STUDY?

William Terrill: SO FAR IT'S OUT -- IT HAS BEEN PUT OUT IN THE LAST FEW WEEKS, SO WE HAVEN'T RECEIVED MUCH RESPONSE. WE'RE EXPECTING TO SEE QUITE A BIT.

Ted Simons: THIS IS MY LAST QUESTION. WHAT DO YOU WANT US TO TAKE -- WHAT DO YOU WANT LAW ENFORCEMENT, WHAT DO YOU WANT THE WHITE AND BLACK, AND EVERY COLOR OF THE RAINBOW COMMUNITY TO TAKE FROM THIS STUDY?

William Terrill: I THINK IT'S GOOD NEWS FROM A POLICE PROFESSIONALIZATION MANNER. I THINK A LOT OF POLICE WILL TELL YOU THIS KIND OF BIAS DOESN'T EXIST IN A SYSTEMATIC WAY. BUT WE DON'T WANT TO DISCOUNT THE INDIVIDUAL CASES WHERE THERE IS -- FOR INSTANCE A WHITE OFFICER SHOOTING AND KILLING AN UNARMED BLACK MAN. THOSE CASES DO OCCUR, IT'S JUST THAT WE DON'T FIND IT SYSTEMATIC AT THIS PARTICULAR TIME. MAYBE AS NUMBERS GROW, WE WILL FIND THAT BUT NOT RIGHT NOW.

Ted Simons: ALL RIGHT. WILLIAM TERRILL, ASU, GOOD TO HAVE YOU HERE.

William Terrill: APPRECIATE IT.

Ted Simons: LATER ON "ARIZONA HORIZON" SEE HOW ASU RESEARCHERS ARE WORKING ON THE PROBLEM OF BURN OUT AMONG NURSES.

School of Criminology and Criminal Justice professor William Terrill

Illustration of columns of a capitol building with text reading: Arizona PBS AZ Votes 2024
airs April 18

Arizona PBS presents candidate debates as part of ‘AZ Votes 2024’

Earth Day Challenge graphic with the Arizona PBS logo and an illustration of the earth

Help us meet the Earth Day Challenge!

Graphic for the AZPBS kids LEARN! Writing Contest with a child sitting in a chair writing on a table and text reading: The Ultimate Field Trip
May 12

Submit your entry for the 2024 Writing Contest

The Capital building with text reading: Circle on Circle: Robert Lowell's D.C.
May 2

An evening with ‘Poetry in America’

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters

STAY in touch
with azpbs.org!

Subscribe to Arizona PBS Newsletters: