Does Race Matter for Police Use of Force? Evidence from 911 Calls

Authors: Mark Hoekstra, CarlyWill Sloan Date: March 2020

While there is much concern about the role of race in police use of force, identifying causal effects is difficult. This is in part because of selection, and in part because researchers often observe only interactions that end in use of force, necessitating nontrivial benchmarking assumptions. This paper by Rex B. Grey Professor Mark Hoekstra and Graduate Student Fellow CarlyWill Sloan addresses these problems by using data on officers dispatched to over two million 911 calls in two cities. By using a location-by-time fixed effects approach that isolates the random variation in officer race, results show white officers use force 60 percent more on average than black officers, and use gun force twice as often. To examine how civilian race affects use of force, the authors compare how white officers increase use of force as they are dispatched to more minority neighborhoods, compared to minority officers. Perhaps most strikingly, findings show that while white and black officers use gun force at similar rates in white and racially mixed neighborhoods, white officers are five times as likely to use gun force in predominantly black neighborhoods. Similarly, white officers increase use of any force much more than minority officers when dispatched to more minority neighborhoods. 

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Keywords: Race, police, use of force