Cities with Black police chiefs have lower instances of fatal police shootings, research shows

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Cities that have Black police chiefs have lower instances of fatal police shootings, according to research obtained by The Hill Sunday. 

Stephen Wu, an economics professor in New York’s Hamilton College, found in a study that cities with Black police commanders have 65 percent lower per-capita rates of fatal police shootings than those with white police chiefs. The research also showed cities with Latino-led police departments experienced fewer fatal shootings. 

Wu analyzed data from The Washington Post of the 60 largest U.S. cities between Jan. 1, 2015 and June 1, 2020. The study is not yet peer reviewed and published, Wu noted, and does not include data on police killings not involving guns.

“A lot of people will talk about training and the racial makeup of officers,” Wu told Time Magazine. “It’s not just about the overall police force. Leadership matters.”

The data accounts for differences in crime rates, the racial makeup of the force and leadership turnovers before June 1. 

Out of the top 20 cities with the most fatal police shootings per capita, 15 are run by white chiefs. Thirteen out of the 20 cities with the lowest numbers fatal police shootings are run by Black commanders.

For a city of one million people, the difference approximately translates to having 21 deadly police shootings in five years, compared to 35, which Wu told Time Magazine was a “pretty striking finding.”

Wu’s research found Lexington, Ky., had the lowest number of fatal police shootings per capita. Lexington’s department is currently run by a Black chief, but had a white leader before March 2018.

Wu told Time that he didn’t factor in the number of tourists in any of the cities he looked at and while he acknowledged the race of a police chief is not a perfect predictor, the overall effect a Black police leader has on fatal shootings is “large and significant,” he told Time.

The research comes as protests have broken out across the country over police brutality after George Floyd died in Minneapolis police custody. The deaths of Floyd and other African Americans at the hands of police have led to calls for reform and defunding and dissolving the police.

Amid the protests, there have been several leadership changes, including white police chiefs resigning, offering to resign or being fired in Atlanta, Louisville, Richmond, Tucson and Portland. Three of those cities now have an at least temporary Black leader of the force.

CORRECTION: Wu acknowledged an error in his research after an earlier version of this story was published. As a result of that error, Las Vegas was listed as the city with the highest per capita rate of shootings.

Wu said he has since adjusted his findings to use the entire population of the jurisdiction covered by the Las Vegas Police Department, which includes a number of small towns in the area, to determine his per capita rankings.

After those adjustments are made, while Black-led police departments have significantly fewer shootings than white-led departments, Las Vegas falls into the middle of the group of 60 cities. 

The Black-led departments also have 65 percent fewer shootings, and 15 of the top 20 cities are led by white police chiefs while 13 of the cities with the lowest rates are led by Black police chiefs.

The Hill updated its story on July 1 to reflect these changes. 


Tags Fatal police shooting Las Vegas Law enforcement lexington Police police brutality police chiefs police reform Race Racism

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