Database of Police Outcomes May Be First Step to Reduce Racial Bias

January 21, 2021

Not only are black people more likely than white people to be stopped by police, but new research in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences documents that the darker you are, the more likely you are to be shot.

Conversely white people with very white skin are less likely to have force used against them.  “Whiteness serve(s) as a protective factor,” Kimberly Barsamian Kahn and Karin D. Martin explain in “The Social Psychology of Racially Biased Policing: Evidence-Based Policy Responses.”

Communities nationwide are trying various strategies to combat the inherent bias and stereotyping that not only target black people but also can cause perpetrators to deny feelings of pain experienced by minorities, such as Freddie Gray, who had his spinal cord broken while in police transport, and George Floyd, who died as a white officer kneeled on his throat. 

While these strategies–community policing, body cameras, officer training on biases, etc.–have the potential to lead to better police outcomes, a key ingredient still is needed: a national database of policing outcomes. 

Without comprehensive data, any efforts at reforming police behaviors are compromised.

According to the researchers, the latest effort to create such a database could come through passage of the “George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020,” a bill introduced by the U.S. House of Representatives.  The bill not only recommends cameras and other strategies that have shown promise, but it also adds the creation of a national, coordinated effort to collect and analyze police use of force.

Such a database “would significantly aid in assessing, and addressing, racial biases in police outcomes,” the researchers state.

Federal efforts to create a comprehensive database, thus far unsuccessful, include the 2014 reauthorization of the Death in Custody Reporting Act of 2000.  The act requires states to provide quarterly reports of anyone incarcerated or in police custody, but the extent of compliance “remains unclear,” according to the research.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics, through what the researchers describe as a “laborious process,” also attempted to generate data on deaths in custody.  Among other findings, they learned that during a three-month period, the media reported 377 deaths while law enforcement agencies reported 48.

The latest attempt, the George Floyd Act, would institute the much-needed, comprehensive, nationwide database; it also would create a National Police Misconduct Registry to reduce the rehiring of problematic officers, and it would ban “no knock” warrants, which occurred in the death of Breonna Taylor, and tactics such as the choke hold that killed Floyd.

The bill also would require the use of body cameras, police training on implicit bias and other strategies that, collectively, “all…have the potential to reduce bias if they are enacted and enforced.”