Lethal Police Encounters and Criminal Violence

Based on the most recent statistics, the annual rate of lethal police encounters is around 1.67 deaths per 100,000 civilians. Almost all of those deaths are explained by benchmarks, i.e., area rates of violent crime, and situational factors, i.e., suspect armed and/or a danger to officer and/or civilians. 

Bodycam video shows suspect shooting officer before being killed

Benchmarks and situational factors explain racial disparities. The only studies that don’t account for disparities using these metrics finds police more reluctant to shoot black suspects compared to white suspects. Police kill twice as many whites as blacks every year despite whites being proportionally underrepresented in serious crime and committing less than 50 percent of all murders and robberies. 

Contrary to the claims of Black Lives Matter and other woke progressive voices favored by the corporate state media, rates and patterns of lethal police encounters are functions of rates and patterns of criminal violence. The United States is remarkable among developed countries for the degree of violent crime. Public safety is a human right. The police are necessary to keep our communities safe. To be be sure, we need better trained officers. But we also need more of them.

The recent rise in crime cannot be explained by the presence of guns. Gun homicide rates are down sharply since their 1993 peak despite the fact that the number of guns per household has remained relatively stable thought out the first two decades of the new millennium and the average guns per person has increased drastically. Both the CDC and the FBI databases make clear that gun homicides is a function of who has guns not the number of or types of guns.

What explains the drop in violent crime since 1993 are policies putting more cops on the street (police presence is a deterrence) and increasing prison commitments (incapacitation keeps violent repeat offenders off the streets). What explains the recent and drastic rise in violence crime? Depolicing, decarceration, greater leniency in the criminal justice process generally, and the anti-public safety policies associated with the sharp rise of social justice politics and the myth of a racist criminal justice system (the Ferguson Effect).

* * *

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “God of the gaps.” This phrase gets at how god is used as an explanation for phenomena when rational explanations, those that depends on sound facts and valid interpretation, are unavailable. “God of the gaps” is an exercise in faith—a substitute for reason. As science advances, the gaps explained by god disappear. If you are prepared to accept reason, that is.

“Racism of the gaps” is the reflexive attribution of disparities between demographic groups to systemic racism. For example, although cops kill twice as many whites as blacks annually, blacks are overrepresented among those killed by the police. We are told that this is because of systemic racism in policing. Another common example is the claim that blacks are overrepresented in prison commitments because of systemic racism in the criminal justice process. As these disparities are explained by benchmarks and situational factors, the gaps close. 

However, not every believer accepts that reason explains phenomena. And they can always appeal to the nonfalsifiable nature of the god explanation to sustain their faith in the supernatural. Yet we cannot say this about the “racism of the gap” phenomenon since we can check to see if there are facts that close the gap (and there are). Still, as is the character of true believers, facts don’t change the minds of those committed to the reflexive attribution of disparities between demographic groups to systemic racism. The reflective attribution is too valuable as an ideological project.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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