Questions and controversies around police use of force are not new, but have been animated by a spate of high profile cases in recent years resulting in the death of black Americans, including Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, and of course, George Floyd.
Although there is plenty of evidence of racism in our criminal justice system (as Radley Balko exhaustively documents, h/t Khal), and these cases are for many prima facie evidence of the same, as a sociologist I still cling to Peter Berger’s contention that “the first wisdom of sociology is this – things are not what they seem.” Of course, they may be what they seem, but our job is not to assume but rather to dig deeper.
This module tries to answer the question, What does the best contemporary scholarship tell us about police use of force, and especially racial disparities in use of force?
In addition to our reading (helpfully suggested by top policing scholars Justin Nix, Michael Sierra-Arevalo, and Kyle McLean), I am pleased to again welcome 21 year veteran of law enforcement, notably undercover narcotics work, and leading self-defense trainer Craig Douglas who will bring his Experiential Learning Lab to class.
Required readings for Module 10 are:
- Gabriel Schwartz, and Jaquelyn L. Jahn. 2020. “Mapping Fatal Police Violence across U.S. Metropolitan Areas: Overall Rates and Racial/Ethnic Inequities, 2013-2017.” PLOS ONE (2020). Uses complex statistical techniques to “map” the places and groups where rates of police use of deadly force are particularly high.
- Justin Nix, “On the Challenges Associated with the Study of Police Use of Deadly Force in the United States: A Response to Schwartz & Jahn.” PLOS ONE (2020). Response to Schwartz and Jahn article that raises broader questions about understanding police use of deadly force.
- Michael Sierra-Arévalo, “American Policing and the Danger Imperative.” Law & Society Review (2021). Qualitative study of 3 police departments that highlights the considerable role played by concern about violence and the need for officer safety in shaping officer beliefs and practices.
Recommended readings for Module 10 are:
- Jennifer Hunt, “Police Accounts of Normal Force.” Urban Life (1985). Published almost 4 decades ago, highlights the longstanding interest in and concern about police use of force.
- Seth Stoughton, Jeffrey J. Noble, and Geoffrey P. Alpert, Evaluating Police Uses of Force (2020). Examines police use of force from the perspective of constitutional law, state law, administrative regulations, and community expectations, as well as tactical considerations and force options.
- Brandon Tregle, Justin Nix, and Geoffrey P. Alpert, “Disparity Does Not Mean Bias: Making Sense of Observed Racial Disparities in Fatal Officer-Involved Shootings with Multiple Benchmarks.” Journal of Crime and Justice (2019). Highlights the need to have appropriate benchmarks to use as a basis for drawing conclusions about racial disparities in officer involved shootings, and tests several possible benchmarks which yield different conclusions.
- Ronald Neil and Christopher Winship, “Methodological Challenges and Opportunities in Testing for Racial Discrimination in Policing.” Annual Review of Criminology (2019). Not for the faint of methodological heart, this review essay highlights the challenge of precisely identifying racial discrimination in policing.
- Justin Nix, Bradley A. Campbell, Edward H. Byers, and Geoffrey P. Alpert, “A Bird’s Eye View of Civilians Killed by Police in 2015.” Criminology & Public Policy (2017). Examines data on fatal police shootings to assess possibility of implicit bias. Key variables were whether the civilian was attacking when shot and whether the civilian was armed when shot.
- Frank Edwards, Hedwig Lee, and Michael Esposito. 2019. “Risk of Being Killed by Police Use of Force in the United States by Age, Race–Ethnicity, and Sex.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2019). Title summarizes the goal of the article, which finds the highest risk of being killed by police among young men of color.
- Rosa Brooks, Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City (2021). The best book on any topic I have read in some time, Brooks highlights the challenges of policing, including the excessive expectations we have for what police can/should do. Includes some discussion of police use of force, but not the book’s main focus.
I don’t take the recommended readings to be comprehensive or complete. Suggestions are welcome.