Does Race Matter for Police Use of Force? Evidence from 911 Calls
While there is much concern about the role of race in police use of force, identifying causal effects is difficult. This is in part because of selection, and in part because researchers often observe only interactions that end in use of force, necessitating nontrivial benchmarking assumptions. This paper addresses these problems by using data on officers dispatched to over 2 million 911 calls in two cities, neither of which allows for discretion in the dispatch process. Using a location-by-time fixed effects approach that isolates the random variation in officer race, we show white officers use force 60 percent more than black officers, and use gun force twice as often. To examine how civilian race affects use of force, we compare how white officers increase use of force as they are dispatched to more minority neighborhoods, compared to minority officers. Perhaps most strikingly, we show that while white and black officers use gun force at similar rates in white and racially mixed neighborhoods, white officers are five times as likely to use gun force in predominantly black neighborhoods. Similarly, white officers increase use of any force much more than minority officers when dispatched to more minority neighborhoods. Consequently, difference-in-differences estimates from individual officer fixed effect models indicate black (Hispanic) civilians are 30 - 60 (75 - 120) percent more likely to experience any use of force, and five times as likely to experience gun use of force, compared to if white officers scaled up force similarly to minority officers. These findings highlight race as an important determinant of police use of force, including and especially lethal force.
We would like to thank the police departments in two anonymous cities for providing the data. We would also like to thank multiple officials in those cities for helpfully answering our numerous questions. We also thank Isabelle Sin, Jan Feld, James West, Jennifer Doleac, Samuel Myers, Jr., Benjamin Hansen, seminar participants at the University of Florida, Georgia Tech, University of Mississippi, Mississippi State University, and conference participants at the 2019 Stata Texas Empirical Microeconomics Conference, the Victoria University of Wellington Applied Econometrics Workshop, the 2019 SEA Annual Conference, and the 2019 ASSA Annual Conference for helpful comments and suggestions. Any errors are our own The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.