Are Police Racially Biased in the Decision to Shoot?


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.

Journal of Politics (forthcoming)