Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

Michael Esposito Estimates the Risk of Police-Involved Mortality

Posted: 8/5/2018 (CSDE Research)

CSDE Fellow Michael Esposito coauthored a groundbreaking paper that finds police have been responsible for about 8% of all homicides of men between 2012 and 2016 – double the proportion reported by official Federal data. During that period, black men were about 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white men. Esposito and coauthors Frank Edwards and Hedwig Lee used crowd-sourced data on fatal police encounters to measure and explicate racial-disparities in police-involved mortality.

Esposito and coauthors Frank Edwards and Hedwig Lee measure and explicate racial-disparities in police-involved mortality by utilizing crowd-sourced data on fatal encounters to address several shortcomings in Federal documentation of deaths involving the police. The study demonstrates the importance of using data on police-involved killings that are independent of official sources. These data, systematically compiled from public records and media coverage, are more comprehensive. Dr. Esposito and his coauthors estimate Bayesian, multilevel models, with weakly informative priors to achieve precision on relatively sparse events.

These more complete data and conservative methodology find that the race and ethnic disparities in police-involved mortality vary dramatically across places. This suggests that broader social forces lead to distinct racial inequalities in police homicide risk in contrast to the media’s individualizing narratives about the victim’s actions preceding the encounter that led the police to perceive the victim as a critical threat. Large central and medium metropolitan areas had relatively high-expected rates of Black adult male police-involved mortality, while noncore and large fringe metropolitan areas had relatively low expected rates of Black adult male police homicide mortality. The risk of police homicide and rural metropolitan areas has received scant attention from researchers, but this paper finds the risk is significant.

The results highlight the importance of local processes in structuring police–civilian interaction. Much research has drawn attention to how place affects mortality by structuring access to physical resources and exposure to environmental hazards. This important study highlights the social and legal aspects of the spatial environment that affect public health and inequality. The authors draw attention to the potential role of targeted interventions for sites with particularly high levels of or inequalities in police-involved mortality.

This research is featured in several news outlets, including Newsweek.

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