A study by the Crime Prevention Research Center’s John R. Lott Jr. and economist Carlisle E. Moody at the College of William and Mary finds that white police officers may be less likely than their black counterparts to use deadly force against black suspects. This study has not received much attention in the media, but the pair’s findings align with previous studies that indicate racism does not play a significant role in the deaths of black Americans at the hands of police. It also found no evidence that body cameras affect “the number of police killings or the racial composition of those killings.”
The Black Lives Matters movement has staked their claim on the assertion that police “hunt down” black Americans or systematically deprive them of life. Activists have charged that racism led to the deaths of Michael Brown, Philando Castile, and others, but Lott and Moody examined 1,333 more cases than are in the FBI data set and their findings show that white officers’ use of force is generally “race neutral.”
They gathered statistics that expand on the FBI data from the same period, incompleteness of which has limited previous studies, and they provide a more general picture than even Fryer, who studied eleven localities and drew conclusions about officers’ use of lethal force from Houston alone. Those surprised by Fryer’s findings should appreciate the efforts by Lott and Moody to provide data that is more generalizable for the entire country.
Additionally, the fact that body cameras do not appear to affect the use of force undercuts a key point that activists and the media often make, namely that body cameras will deter the current high levels of racial bias. Lott and Moody named body cameras as a “potential deterrent” of discriminatory violence, saying “When a shooting is recorded by a body cam, officers know that it will become a central focus of the public debate.” But their data did not show body cameras having any effect. Again, racism is not showing up as a serious factor in the data.