We present a theoretical model predicting racially biased policing produces 1) more use of potentially lethal force by firearms against Black civilians than against White civilians and 2) lower fatality rates for Black civilians than White civilians. We empirically evaluate this second prediction with original officer-involved shooting data from eight local police jurisdictions from 2010 to 2017, finding that Black fatality rates are significantly lower than White fatality rates and that this significance would survive an omitted covariate three times as strong as any of our observed covariates. Furthermore, using outcome test methodology and a comparability assumption, we estimate that at least 30% of Black civilians shot by the police would not have been shot had they been White. An omitted covariate would need to be at least three times as strong as any of our observed covariates to eliminate this finding. Finally, any omitted covari ate would have to affect Black fatality rates and not Hispanic fatality rates in order to be consistent with the data.
In 2017, the Trump Administration restored local law enforcement agencies’ access to military weapons and some other types of surplus military equipment (SME) that had been prohibited by the Obama Administration. The Justice Department background paper used to justify this decision cited two papers published by the American Economic Association. These papers used SME data collected with a 2014 Freedom of Information Act request and concluded that SME, supplied to local law enforcement by the federal government via the 1033 Program, reduces crime. Here we show that the findings of these studies are not credible due to problems with the data. Using more detailed audit data on 1033 SME, we show that the 2014 data are flawed and that the more recent data provide no evidence that 1033 SME reduces crime.
Police use of force bears on central matters of political science, including equality of citizen treatment by government. In light of recent high-profile officer-involved shootings (OIS) that resulted in civilian deaths, we assess whether, conditional on a shooting, a civilian’s race predicts fatality during police-civilian interactions. We combine Los Angeles data on OIS with a novel research design to estimate the causal effects of fatal shootings on citizen-initiated contact with government. Specifically, we examine whether fatal OIS affect citizen contact with the municipal government via use of the emergency 911 and nonemergency 311 call systems in Los Angeles. We find no average effect of OIS on patterns of 911 and 311 call behavior across a wide range of empirical specifications. Our results suggest, contrary to existing evidence, that OIS, in and of themselves, do not substantively change civic behavior, at least not citizen-initiated contact with local government.