UofL professor analyzes the data on police involved shootings and the 'war on cops'

07/12/2016 05:20 PM

The images are ingrained in our collective subconscious — police-involved shootings and the resulting social outcry, and now outright attacks against the police in Dallas, Texas, but what is the actual prevalence of what we see on social media?

Justin Nix, an assistant professor of criminology at the University of Louisville, has been studying the trends of police-involved shootings. In recent studies, Nix has found that police-involved shootings have not gone up as some might presume.

Nix and his colleagues studied data 66 weeks before the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and 72 weeks after and did not see any significant increase or decrease.

What the studies did reveal was that of the roughly 1,000 people who have been killed by police, African-Americans were twice as likely to be unarmed than compared to white citizens.

“We have to be cautious about what we can infer because, first, as great as the data is it is still limited,” he said. “We only have data for the fatal shootings. There were still an unknown number of shootings that did not result in death. But those are important as well because the officer had intent to use deadly force.

“It does indicate that among those that they did use deadly force against — that did result in death — black citizens were more likely to not be unarmed.”

It could be, Nix said, outright prejudice. However, he cautioned that is unlikely given the 1,000 fatal shootings across the nation.

The more plausible reasoning is that police officers have “implicit biases,” Nix said. Experimental research has shown that subjects have been found to be more likely to misinterpret a weapon if they’ve first been shown a picture of a black face, he said.

“The reason that is is because our mind works on two levels,” Nix said. “We have to unconsciously take in information because we’re taking in so much information on a daily basis, and so we use mental short cuts to try to make sense of the world around us.”

Nix warned, though, that more research is needed to understand what is happening across the country.

The UofL professor also took into account five years of data to track what some are calling a “war on cops.” Nix and his colleagues found that the number of intentional killings of police have not changed significantly over the last five years.

“These events are incredibly rare from a statistical standpoint, and when you’re talking about fewer cases than 100 per year, those numbers are going to bounce around a little bit,” he said. “What we saw in Dallas hopefully is not the start of something else — hopefully it doesn’t lead to a war on cops.”

Watch the full interview with Nix in the video below:


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