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Republished from forcescience.org

The most explosive crisis law enforcement faces today is the allegation that rampant racial bias drives officers’ shooting decisions. Yet a new study concludes that officers tend not to be biased against black suspects in resorting to deadly force, even when fatigued and thus potentially more vulnerable to making angry, irrational, and impulsive decisions.

Indeed, tired cops and rested officers alike are more hesitant to shoot black suspects than to shoot white ones in similar circumstances and to show better judgment in their shooting decisions when black suspects are involved.

“[T]oday’s police officers tend to be operating in a state of heightened awareness of the consequences of shooting a member of a historically oppressed minority group,” the study notes, and their extra caution regarding black suspects is not overridden even by the potentially debilitating effects of fatigue.

Lead author of the study is Dr. Lois James. She and her research associates, Dr. Stephen James and Dr. Bryan Vila, are connected with the Sleep and Performance Research Center at Washington State University in Spokane.

A full report on the current study, titled “Does the ‘Reverse Racism Effect’ Withstand the Test of Police Officer Fatigue?,” has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed journal Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management. At this writing, the date of publication is pending.

QUESTIONS OF FATIGUE & RACE

In an earlier study led by Lois James [see Force Science News #266 in the newsletter archives at www.forcescience.org], scientific testing of a sampling of white officers revealed that overall they “hesitated significantly longer before shooting armed suspects who were black, compared to armed subjects who were white or Hispanic.” Also they were 25 times less likely to erroneously shoot unarmed black subjects than they were unarmed white subjects.

In contrast to activists’ vociferous claims, James reported that the research found that officer participants “even when they had strong implicit biases against black suspects were more hesitant when faced with black suspects in a simulator.” This hesitancy has been referred to as “counter bias” or the “reverse racism effect.”

Still, in light of the well-documented negative effects of fatigue on LEOs’ performance in other realms, James wondered if the hesitancy to shoot black suspects would vanish if involved officers were tired when their shooting decisions were made.

In other words, if an encounter occurred when an officer was dragging from a long shift, a crushing workload, or chronic sleep deprivation–surely a realistic possibility–would he or she still be “more hesitant to shoot black suspects compared to white suspects” and still be less likely to draw a deadly “mistake-of-fact” conclusion where black suspects were involved?

James guessed not. “[T]he parts of the brain responsible for executive functions such as moral decision making and impulse control tend to be affected the quickest by fatigue,” she explains.

So specifically, she hypothesized that officers would be “significantly quicker to shoot armed suspects” and “significantly more likely to mistakenly shoot unarmed suspects” when fatigued than when rested. And she expected the racial difference favoring black suspects to disappear when officers were tired; in effect, heightening the danger to black individuals.

SPECULATIONS TESTED

To test these speculations, James’s team subjected 80 sworn officers–overwhelmingly male whites, averaging over 14 years on patrol–to identical experimental procedures.

Armed with a modified Glock 22, each officer faced a series of “highly realistic” shoot/don’t shoot video scenarios in a “state-of-the-art” training simulator on four separate occasions: twice when considered fatigued (immediately after their fifth consecutive shift of more than 10 hrs.) and twice when rested (72 hours after completing their work week).

On each test day, they experienced six randomized scenarios, featuring a roughly equal number of white or black suspects, armed or unarmed, in “the most common situations in which officer-involved shootings occur.” These included domestic disturbances, vehicle stops, armed robberies in progress, and suspicious persons/circumstances.

In all, “the officers completed a total of 1,517 scenarios,” James says. Their shooting reactions, from the moment a suspect’s weapon became apparent on screen, could be measured in milliseconds.

SURPRISE

To James’s surprise, she told Force Science News, “My hypotheses weren’t supported” by the results. Instead, “Officers’ counter bias remained strong, even under conditions of fatigue.”

• Officers were “marginally” (although “not significantly”) quicker to shoot when fatigued than when rested–but on average they still took fractions of a second longer before deciding to shoot armed black suspects than armed white suspects.

• As to mistake-of-fact shootings, “the officers were more likely to shoot unarmed white suspects than unarmed black suspects in both fatigued and rested conditions,” James writes. Rested, “officers collectively shot 31 unarmed white suspects (3.6% of the total) and 2 unarmed black suspects (0.3%).” In the fatigued condition, they inexplicably showed an improvement in judgment, collectively shooting “23 unarmed white suspects (2.8%) and 0 unarmed black suspects (0.0%)”

• “No significant differences [in results] were observed [as to] participant gender and race,” the researchers report. “The key indication of the findings,” James writes, “is that both officers’ decisions to shoot and their tendency to be more hesitant to shoot black suspects than white suspects appeared to be unaffected by officer fatigue.”

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED

Potential explanations of the findings include the possibility that an arousing “adrenalin surge” during the simulator scenarios “temporarily overwhelmed the effects of fatigue” on the officers’ performance, James suggests.

Also, she concedes that she may not have tested them “under extreme enough conditions of fatigue to see a degradation of the counter bias effect.” Plus, the experiments were conducted “in an artificial, laboratory environment,” not on the street.

Further research is needed, she says, including an exploration of whether, in the real world, pre-shooting behavior of officers may be affected by fatigue to the extent that it escalates encounters. “For example,” she writes, “[are] officers more rude or aggressive to black suspects than white suspects, and if so, [is] this difference amplified when they [are] fatigued?”

Such research, she says, could have practical application for agencies, allowing, for example, the analysis and “scoring” of officer behavior recorded by body cams. “This could improve our ability to better hold police accountable for what happens throughout an encounter, as opposed to just its outcome,” James notes.

[Dr. James can be reached at: lois_james@wsu.eduOur thanks to Force Science instructor Chris Lawrence for alerting us to this study.]

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30 Responses to Fatigue Study Finds Cops Less Likely To Shoot Black Suspects

  1. Issue with this study: There is no such thing as “unarmed.” I think it should be changed to “passive,” “non-aggressive,” or maybe “surrendering.”

    • Issue #2 with this study: I don’t care how good your simulation is or whether the cop is rested or fatigued, they KNOW it is a simulation and nobody is going to die, whatever decision they make, no BLM marches in the streets, no internal affairs review or charges filed against the officer if he makes a mistake.

      You want real data, look at the real world. Simulations only give you a false view of what would really happen if the cop thought the sumbitch, black, white or hispanic, was likely to kill him.

      • True but you can’t control for real world variables the way you can in a simulation. Most cases will have factors you can’t account for. How would you classify the Michael Brown shooting when witnesses contradict each other? How about the more recent Sterling shooting where we have video evidence but it’s still not entirely clear?

      • Whenever I hear about ‘the talk’ I think… well, yeah, shouldn’t everyone get that? My parents taught me not to do certain things around cops (like blast music out of a stereo on a traffic stop, pull a gun, etc). Is this something we need to teach in school?

  2. When I saw the headline, I told myself, if it’s from FarceScienceInstitute, it’s pure bullshit.
    Then I opened the article, and saw “republished from farcescience.org”.

    Geez, really?
    Why do you keep quoting that jerk as if he’s reputable?

      • “Oh! Well, that’s very different! Nevermind…”

        My personal favorite SNL ‘Weekend Update’ line:

        “Send your dollars to… Kill Morris (the cat)”

  3. “Further research is needed, she says, including an exploration of whether, in the real world, pre-shooting behavior of officers may be affected by fatigue to the extent that it escalates encounters.”

    Step up to the bureaucratic government trough of endless research funding for a problem that does not exist.

    Proving again 27 words 240 years ago is the best anti crime bill written.

  4. Probably True.

    You shoot a regular white Joe and the cop wouldn’t get an army of SJW at their place of residence, the police station, or their local Walgreen’s burning down.

  5. 13% of the population commits over 50% of the homicides. The remaining 87% commits the other half. If the police were more nervous they would be right to be. Are people really that bad at math?

    • It’s not bad math skills so much as it is a willful effort to hide from the sad truth. There’s a black pundit on YouTube who is frequently harassed and stalked by other black people because he points out the inherent and racist hypocrisy of the black community and BLM movement. Black people don’t like to have the truth shoved in their faces. If we admitted the truth, we’d have to face our own bullshit, and that’s very painful to do.

      • “Black people don’t like to have the truth shoved in their faces.”

        Most people don’t, regardless of skin color, eye shape, or whether they wear bell-bottoms or skinny jeans.

        “If we admitted the truth, we’d have to face our own bullshit, and that’s very painful to do.”

        In other words, the truth can hurt, particularly when it conflicts with our self-image or, worse, the image we want others to have of us.

        That’s also the case – arguably more so – when talking about an individual’s reaction to a group average, e.g. the numerical example above.

        • “In other words, the truth can hurt, particularly when it conflicts with our self-image or, worse, the image we want others to have of us.”

          Indeed.

          My favorite line from the movie ‘Scrooged’ put it best:

          (The Ghost of X-mas Present, portrayed by Bernadette Peters) “The truth will set you free! But first, it’s *painful*!”

          (The character portrayed by Bill Murray) “The bitch hit me with a toaster!”

    • Is that out of all homicides or just solved ones? If it’s all of them then 13% of population realy committed over 50% of homicides. That we are sure of. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the other almost 50% was all committed by other parts of the population. How many homicides were not solved? I mean, how many more of those were comitted by the same 13% of the population?

      Now even if it’s only out of the solved homicides. Which murder case will get more attention and efforts to solve –
      a) yet another drive-by shooting of inner city gang bangers or
      b) brake-in/homicide of housewife in nice suburban home?
      Which kind will leave more unsolved cases?

  6. I don’t think that even the bad shoots are racially motivated, it’s usually a jumpy/I’ll trained/idiot officer. I don’t think any officer, especially under the scrutiny police are under today, says ” oh goody a Black man, time to get my kill on!”

    • Well, more like an admission that the study didn’t reveal the correct “truth.”

      You mean this whole thing is a SHAM? Oh the humanity….

    • Admission that they want more money to continue having soft jobs in air conditioned offices where no one expects hard results.

  7. This coincides with real world data that shows whites are twice as likely to be shot by police than blacks, even when controlling for population disparity.

  8. Ah sure. And yet cops shoot black folks QUITE often in Chiraq-like a few days ago. However I’m NOT saying they don’t deserve it(the 18year dindu stole a car and sideswiped the po-leece). His Mama can’t understand why they shot her baby in the back…like LaQuan McDonald on a crime spree brandishing a knife.

  9. STUDY SHOWS COPS SHOOT HISPANICS WITHOUT A SECOND THOUGHT! MORE NEWS AT 11!

    Let’s be real here though, these tests prove absolutely nothing. Let’s repeat the tests, and put in the clause “if you hesitate and get ‘shot’ by the ‘virtual perp’, you loose that week’s salary”. Let’s face it, the cops know the perception they’re up against, and will alter their behaviors specifically to counter that perception. When there’s nothing on the line, you can play such games, however on “tha streetz” I’m sure the results are much different.

    /note: I am not saying the police are more likely to shoot people based on the color of their skin, I’m simply saying regardless of skin color, police (well, anyone really) are going to be motivated to keep themselves safe above all else. I would assume police will shoot sooner in a real life scenario than in a “simulator” since the stakes are real, and “it’s better to be judged by 12 than to be carried by 6”.

  10. I mean.. it is kind of obvious that the reason that black men are shot at higher per-capita rates is because there are higher per-capita rates of police contacts with black men. I know that this obvious conclusion somewhat escapes most political groups on both sides of the issue, but it is pretty obvious if one just thinks about it for a minute.

  11. You guys want a really great example of this playing out in real life? Think “Alton Sterling.” He menaced a man with a gun, but when Lake and Salamoni confronted him, they did not draw down on him from the get go like they should have. Instead, they went straight to hands on, putting him on the hood for the frisk. Then, when he resisted, they tased him. Then, when he resisted the taser, they tackled him; so they went from greater force to LESSER force. It wasn’t until they actually SAW his gun, with their own eyes, that they cleared kydex. Think about that; it echoes the absurd suggestion of activists not to shoot “until you are absolutely positive.” I have no doubt they were thinking about BLM, as this comedy played out, and Sterling’s right hand disappeared under the bumper…

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