HKS-Led Research Shows Unconscious Racial Bias in Police-on-Police Killings

May 27, 2010
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

Unconscious racial bias has contributed to the deaths of several police officers killed while off-duty over the last 30 years by other police officers, according to a new research report released today. The research task force, led by Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) professor Christopher Stone and formed by New York Governor David Paterson, investigated two police-on-police killings in New York in 2008 and 2009, and expanded to also look at nationwide police-on-police killings for the past 30 years.

“We found that all nine of the off-duty police officers killed by other police officers in ‘mistaken-identity’ shootings since 1982 nationwide were officers of color,” said Stone, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim professor of the practice of criminal justice, director and faculty chair of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. “No white police officer has been killed in such a police-on-police shooting in the United States since 1982.”

In the report, the authors recommend a series of actions to reduce both conscious and unconscious racial biases among police officers including developing protocol for how off-duty officers should conduct themselves in a confrontations with uniformed officers; increasing police training on issues of race should include a focus on diversity within the police force; developing a specialized support team to deploy to the scene in the case of police-on-police shootings; and, suggesting the federal government partners with local law enforcement agencies to launch a “program of dialogue and research on the experiences of officers of color”.

“Since 1981, some 26 police officers across the United States have been shot and killed by fellow police officers who have mistaken them for dangerous criminals,” write the authors in the introduction. “These fatal shootings are doubly tragic, first because both the shooters and victims in such situations are risking their lives to enforce the law and protect the public, and second because many of these deaths are preventable. The dangers that give rise to these deaths are inherent in policing, but those dangers can be reduced and more deaths prevented.”

Find out more about the report.

Christopher Stone

Christopher Stone, Daniel and Florence Guggenheim professor of the practice of criminal justice, director and faculty chair of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management.

"The dangers that give rise to these deaths are inherent in policing, but those dangers can be reduced and more deaths prevented."

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