Police Shootings and Violent Crime: Data Reveals Predictable Pattern

May 2, 2021

by Sean Kullman

Photo by Colin Lloyd on Unsplash

As police shootings continue to dominate the social narrative, Global Initiative for Boys & Men analyzed over 6-years of police-shooting-deaths and 5-years of crime data to help us better understand the intersectionality of sex, race, and crime in police-shooting-deaths. One of our primary sources, the Washington Post (WAPO database), focuses solely on police-shooting-deaths. These deaths remain a predominately male occurrence as males account for 96% of deaths and females account for 4% of deaths. What often goes unmentioned is those killed were armed and/or attacking an officer at least 94% of the time. The at least is an important distinction because the number of those armed an/or attacking an officer is likely higher than 94%.

Many of the conversations regarding police shootings fail to address the threat level to police officers and the need to make this an integral part of the conversation. It should be noted that the WAPO database only lists an assailant as attacking an officer at the moment an officer discharges a firearm; it neither takes into account actions prior to the shooting nor the history of the person and the threat that person brings to an interaction with an officer and civilians.

The shooting of Phillip Rhoades in West Virgina in 2017 happened after an initial attempt to serve multiple warrants on Rhoades who faced 22 charges and was living at “a home without the owner’s permission.” He used at least 4 stolen vehicles on July 25, 2017 to escape officers and attempted to attack an officer with a stolen truck. In a later and similar pursuit on August 2, 2017, Rhoades used a stolen vehicle to evade police before a foot chase that led to the shooting death of Rhoades. His threat level in the WAPO database is listed as “other,” and his “armed” status is blank.

In the recent shooting of 13-year-old Adam Toledo, the WAPO database lists the threat level of Toledo as “other” and his “armed” status as “undetermined,” despite later reports that showed Toledo possessed a weapon within a second of the fatal shooting. It is one of the reasons armed and/or attacking an officer numbers are likely understated by the WAPO database and GIBM analysis. (GIBM did not change any of the information from the WAPO database even in instances when the status could have been changed.)

Although some challenges could be made to the way the Washington Post determines the “armed” and “threat level” categories, the GIBM analysis and WAPO database numbers are high enough to show police-shooting-deaths occurred in situations where the person killed possessed a weapon and/or was attacking an officer at least 94% of the time. Police-shooting-deaths are directly related to high level threats to policers officer and civilians.

On April 29, 2021 Officer Keith Heacook was beaten to death by a 30 year old male after Officer Heacook responded to a call regarding the apparent assault of an elderly couple. Lieutenant Michael Boutte was shot and killed after responding to a call on February 1, 2021. Each month police officers are feloniously killed and the threat levels are hardly part of the mainstream narrative.

Context is Everything

An emphasis on the actual number of killings by sex and race is a key component of the GIBM analysis and the way our data is presented. Although percentages identify differences to some degree, a look at the raw numbers express the divide between male and female deaths. For every 22 men killed in police shootings, 1 women is killed. By simply looking at the percentages of those killed who were “unarmed, other, and undetermined” while not looking at the numbers of those killed, one misses the total numbers. For instance, there are 183 white-male-deaths and 7 black-female-deaths in the “unarmed, other, or undetermined" category, a ratio of 26 to 1 (Table 1 above). When looking at the percentages, however, black-female-deaths are 13.7% and white-male-deaths are 6.74% of "unarmed, other, or undetermined." The percentages disproportionately suggest black females are shot and killed more than black males, white males, and hispanic males. In many instances, sex and race data are conflated. When looking at police-shooting-deaths, it is important to remember that the overwhelming number of those killed (96%) are male.

This data does not discount the number of women killed. It does, however, remind us of the gender-gap associated with police-shooting-deaths. The cohort of black males, white males, and total males provides a comprehensive data set for analysis and details this predominately male problem.

The Social Narrative and Its Conflict with Data

Attempting to compare police-shooting-deaths to populations not involved in violent crime usually lacks context. Simple contextual misunderstandings often lead to stories like the one that recently appeared in a Newsweek article by David Brennan. Brennan’s analysis lacks essential information to help readers better understand the context.

Police shootings are a function of how often officers encounter armed and violent suspects,” says Heather Mac Donald, author of The War on Cops and a Thomas W. Smith Fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

The chances of a person being shot and killed in the United States by a police officer is 0.000003% if one compares police-shooting-deaths in any given year to the total population. The percentages change once violent crime is introduced to the analysis. Data analysis that looks at the intersectionality of gender, race, and violent crime presents a more representative picture of police-shooting-deaths (Table 2).

  • Black are 0.15% of police-shooting-deaths as a percentage of violent crime.

  • Whites are 0.19% of police-shooting-deaths as a percentage of violent crime.

Going Forward

Our national conversation needs to spend more time discussing police-shooting-deaths as a direct correlative of violent crime while also looking at the threat level police officers face in many of these interactions. It's easy to forget police officers are victims too.

The following are recommended ways to decrease violent crime, make communities safer, and improve relationships among kids, adults, law enforcement, and other members of the community.

  1. Increase tactical training for police officers

  2. Increase the number of police officers

  3. Increase the funding for Police Athletic Leagues as a way to build stronger relationships among the police and the community

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