Comey de­nies racially bi­ased po­lice kill at ‘epi­demic rates’

Points public to data, not anec­dotes

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY AN­DREA NOBLE

FBI Di­rec­tor James B. Comey pushed back against the idea that “bi­ased po­lice are killing black men at epi­demic rates,” say­ing Amer­i­cans are re­ly­ing on anec­dotes and videos cap­tur­ing the deadly en­coun­ters rather than on hard evidence to form that nar­ra­tive.

In the ab­sence of re­li­able fed­eral data on po­lice shoot­ings, “Amer­i­cans ac­tu­ally have no idea whether the num­ber of black peo­ple, brown peo­ple or white peo­ple is up down or side­ways,” Mr. Comey told the In­ter­na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion of Chiefs of Po­lice dur­ing the group’s an­nual con­fer­ence in San Diego. “They have no idea of these things be­cause we have no idea of these things.”

His com­ments came days af­ter the FBI an­nounced its in­ten­tion to go for­ward with a pi­lot pro­gram to col­lect lethal and non­lethal use-of-force data, a move re­searchers say will be­gin to fill in the gaps when it comes to data on po­lice shoot­ings and other en­coun­ters.

In just the first half of 2016, at least four sig­nif­i­cant stud­ies were re­leased that sought to mea­sure racial bias and use of force by po­lice of­fi­cers.

“They were all over the map,” Lorie A. Fridell, a crim­i­nol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of South Florida, said of the re­sults.

One study pub­lished in the jour­nal In­jury Preven­tion found that blacks and His­pan­ics are more likely to be stopped, searched and ar­rested by po­lice, but that race does not play a fac­tor in the risk of in­jury or death dur­ing an en­counter. Rather, the study found that the dis­pro­por­tion­ate deaths of black men at the hands of po­lice re­sult from their greater ex­po­sure to stops and ar­rests by of­fi­cers.

“What this study says is that it doesn’t mat­ter what your race is when you’re in a stop-and-frisk sit­u­a­tion or ar­rest sit­u­a­tion with a po­lice of­fi­cer,” study au­thor Ted Miller told The Guardian news­pa­per when the study was re­leased in July. “Your chance of be­ing in­jured or killed is the same re­gard­less of race — it’s equally dan­ger­ous for ev­ery­one.”

A study from the Cen­ter for Polic­ing Eq­uity, which an­a­lyzed 19,000 use-of-force in­ci­dents in 11 po­lice agen­cies over a fiveyear period, found that blacks are three times more likely than whites to have force used against them dur­ing in­ter­ac­tions with of­fi­cers.

Some of the vari­a­tion in the stud­ies’ find­ings could be at­trib­ut­able to dif­fer­ent method­ol­ogy or vari­a­tions across the in­di­vid­ual agen­cies stud­ied, Ms. Fridell said. Hav­ing a na­tional data­base of use-of-force data will al­low ex­perts to identify trends across the coun­try.

“We will cer­tainly be able to de­ter­mine whether there is dis­par­ity in use of force,” Ms. Fridell said. “What is tougher to do is identify the causes of that dis­par­ity. How much of that is due to po­lice bias? How much due to other fac­tors, in­clud­ing le­git­i­mate fac­tors?”

With a lack of fed­eral data and dis­parate con­clu­sions from sci­en­tific stud­ies, Mr. Comey lamented that the public draws con­clu­sions about use of force from dra­matic videos, shared widely on the in­ter­net, that cap­ture deadly en­coun­ters be­tween law en­force­ment and civil­ians. The nar­ra­tive they come away with af­ter watch­ing such videos is that there is an epi­demic of po­lice vi­o­lence tar­get­ing mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, he said.

“It is a nar­ra­tive driven by video im­ages of real and gut-wrench­ing mis­con­duct,” but also per­ceived mis­con­duct, the FBI di­rec­tor said.

Mr. Comey warned that the ef­fects of those videos are be­ing felt, cre­at­ing a “chasm” of ten­sion and dis­trust be­tween po­lice and the com­mu­ni­ties they serve. As a re­sult, of­fi­cers may stay in their pa­trol cars and cit­i­zens may opt not to share in­for­ma­tion with po­lice, he said.

Such ten­sion and an­i­mos­ity could threaten the future of polic­ing by steer­ing good and ta­lented young peo­ple away from ca­reers in law en­force­ment, Mr. Comey said.

“If qual­ity peo­ple stop sign­ing up, we may not no­tice it for a few years, but the day will come when this coun­try will be deeply sorry that we failed to ex­plain to great young peo­ple why they should choose law en­force­ment,” he said.

Chris Bur­bank, di­rec­tor of law en­force­ment en­gage­ment at the Cen­ter for Polic­ing Eq­uity, be­lieves there are racial dis­par­i­ties in of­fi­cers’ use of force, and says one of the keys to re­build­ing trust be­tween po­lice and com­mu­ni­ties of color is get­ting to the bot­tom of the un­der­ly­ing cause of that dis­par­ity.

“We are see­ing an all-time low in public trust in law en­force­ment,” Mr. Bur­bank said. “The idea of pro­vid­ing data in a public por­tal that peo­ple can look at — that is a good, pos­i­tive step in the right di­rec­tion.”

But he ar­gues that re­port­ing of use-of­force data by law en­force­ment agen­cies should be made manda­tory for lethal and non­lethal in­ci­dents.

The 2014 Death in Cus­tody Re­port­ing Act re­quires law en­force­ment agen­cies to re­port in­ter­ac­tions in which in­di­vid­u­als died. Re­port­ing on non­lethal in­ci­dents is vol­un­tary.

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