Study indicates no racial bias in police shootings

A study released by a Harvard University professor is stirring up a lot of debate in Houston. The study released in July found no evidence of racial bias in police shootings.

The 63- page study used data from the 13 largest police departments in the U.S. including Houston. The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice conducted a news conference on Thursday to dispute the findings. But the President of the Houston Police Union said he believes the data is on point.

“We are here today to denounce the article” said Tarsha Jackson, director of the Texas Organizing Project. “I’m going to be honest, I haven’t read it, but I saw the heading and I immediately said, 'You know, this is not right. I’m pretty sure it's incorrect information.'”

Jackson gathered with several members of the Greater Houston Coalition of Justice to speak out against the findings of the study published by Harvard professor Roland Fryer Jr. The study collected data from officer-involved shootings nationwide and found there was “no racial difference in either raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. Information that is hard to believe for some here in Houston.”

“I believe that the study is very flawed,” said Shelby Stewart, a former Houston Police Department officer. “It may have come from a Harvard professor, but the fact is that we would need to see the data that he has.”

The timely report comes just weeks after two African American men were shot and killed by police in Louisiana and Minnesota, and it challenges anyone who believe that these shootings are representative of all police officers. To many people’s surprise, it was an African American Harvard professor who published the study.  The study states that a team of researchers was responsible for reading thousands of arrest reports, collecting 300 variables on each incident.

“It doesn’t surprise me,” said Houston Police Officers Union president Ray Hunt. “There has been two similar reports that have shown the same thing, that there is no inherent bias when using deadly force amongst whites and blacks.”

Hunt said this is the type of report the nation needs to see. But he added there are some facts he feels are flawed in the report. He questioned how the author was able to determine that there was a higher percentage of blacks that “pushed up against walls” than whites.

The report states, “Using data from Houston Texas, the raw data shows blacks are 23.8 percent less likely to be shot at by police relative to whites. Hispanics are 8.5 percent less likely.” But these aren’t statistics that make sense to those who attended the news conference on Thursday.

“I don’t think that the Houston Police Department would send data to the professor that would incriminate them in being wrong about anything,” said Stewart.

The 63-page study is titled “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force."