Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force? Analyses of Officer-Involved Fatal Shootings in 2015–2016

Joseph Cesario, David J. Johnson, William Terrill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

11 Scopus citations


Is there evidence of a Black–White disparity in death by police gunfire in the United States? This is commonly answered by comparing the odds of being fatally shot for Blacks and Whites, with odds benchmarked against each group’s population proportion. However, adjusting for population values has questionable assumptions given the context of deadly force decisions. We benchmark 2 years of fatal shooting data on 16 crime rate estimates. When adjusting for crime, we find no systematic evidence of anti-Black disparities in fatal shootings, fatal shootings of unarmed citizens, or fatal shootings involving misidentification of harmless objects. Multiverse analyses showed only one significant anti-Black disparity of 144 possible tests. Exposure to police given crime rate differences likely accounts for the higher per capita rate of fatal police shootings for Blacks, at least when analyzing all shootings. For unarmed shootings or misidentification shootings, data are too uncertain to be conclusive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalSocial Psychological and Personality Science
StateAccepted/In press - Jan 1 2018



  • Black Lives Matter
  • deadly force
  • fatal shootings
  • officer-involved shootings
  • police use of force
  • race bias
  • racial disparity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology

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