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Report: White Police Officers Are Twice As Likely To Fire Their Guns Than Black Officers

A police SUV parked outside Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston.
Shannon Harrison
Houston Public Media
A police SUV parked outside Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston.

White police officers are more likely to be aggressive with civilians than Black officers, especially when policing in Black neighborhoods, according to a new comprehensive study on race and policing.

The Texas A&M research analyzed police interactions from 2 million 911 calls in two major U.S. cities and found white officers in the two cities used physical force 60% more than Black officers — and fired their guns twice as often.

The data showed that not only are white officers more aggressive in general — when policing in black neighborhoods they are more likely to be violent.

“While white and Black officers use force with a gun (fire their guns) at the same rates in white neighborhoods, white cops are five times as likely to use force with a gun in Black neighborhoods,” said the study’s author, A&M University economist Mark Hoekstra.

The research also shows both Black and Hispanic civilians are more likely to experience police violence than whites.

Hoekstra said that the results of the study were widespread — not skewed by a few aggressive white officers.

“We are talking about hundreds of officers rather than five or 10 or 20 that are driving this,” Hoekstra said. “The type of white officer that the city is attracting seems to be quite a bit different than the type of Black officer the city is attracting to the police force.”

The research focused on two cities, one where the population was largely white and Hispanic and another city with large Black and white populations.

Because of the sensitivity of the topic, the research agreement prevents the study’s authors from revealing which cities were used for the study.

Hoekstra said that while it’s hard to know to what degree these findings would be replicated in other cities, “our best guess as to what’s true for other cities would be to look at these cities where we have this nice clean experiment.”

The study’s co-author CarlyWill Sloan said it was a challenge to find police departments willing to provide race and policing information for the study. But she hopes more police departments in the future are willing to share this data.

“As this is a topic with a significant bit of disagreement, I think the most important step forward would be for police departments and cities to make data on police officer behavior much more accessible,” said Sloan.