Police Officers Should Feel Safer Because of What?

Social scientists who study violence against police have noted several trends in the data sets. One unusual feature consistent over the years has been the high number of African-American defendants involved in murders of police officers. African Americans comprise approximately 12% of the U.S. population but about 40% of felons who murder police.

Researchers have offered two primary reasons for this:

…One view holds that police homicide rates are explained primarily by of levels of crime and violence and/or the underlying structural conditions that generate criminal motivation (economic strains, low social control). According to this view, police officers are most often killed by offenders who simply wish to avoid apprehension and punishment, with the overrepresentation of black offenders being a function of higher levels of crime and violence in disadvantaged black communities.

A second view holds that the overrepresentation of blacks is a result of their economic and political subordination by the state. According to this perspective, murdering police is a form of inarticulate protest or primitive rebellion directed against repressive state agents...
Why are African-Americans overly represented in the “murder of officers” population?

I think this represents an interesting question. Researchers offer economic strain/low social control and economic/government subordination as two theories to explain this behavior. These are reasonable theories (not my favorites), and I have no problem with them being tested.

I then read of a study by Ohio State researchers Jacobs and Carmichael (2002) that tried to test the government subordination explanation as a motive for killing officers.

What variable did the researchers select: the number of cities with African-American mayors. Scientist identified 11 cities with African-American mayors and determined that African-Americans represented a lower percentage of the police killer population as compared to cities with mayors of other nationalities. Say what?

I have to confess, I have not read the full Jacobs and Carmichael (2002) study, but if one police officer were interviewed about this finding, I can’t imagine anything but laughter as a response. Speaking anecdotally from my police officer days, I cannot remember one defendant who tried to hurt me that I would wager could even name the mayor of the city or even cared.

Did the researchers sample the police killers to determine their awareness of city politics? How many of the police killers actually even lived in the city where the murder took place? My guess is that the researchers simply used officer murder totals and comparing them to various other statistical categories looking for some type of trend.

My pet peeve with research is when auto theft, murder, robbery, or whatever offense statistics are examined in aggregate without an understanding of the typologies that exist under each official classification.

For example, to the untrained eye, auto theft statistics are all the same. In contrast, officers and the few educated others know that car thefts occur for several reasons: 1) To sell the car or to sell the parts; 2) To use the car in another crime; 3) to joyride; or 4) As temporary transportation. The total auto theft numbers lump all of these crimes together. If a researcher tries to compare total auto thefts without recognizing typologies, their analysis will obviously be lacking.

Researchers examining police issues could most certainly benefit their studies by actually talking to an officer. Perhaps then he/she would learn that using the variable of suspect’s opinion of the city’s mayor as a relevant factor in officer assaults is simply ludicrous.

It is no wonder why a number of researchers have credibility problems with police practitioners.


Dan Dan The Bus Driver Man said...

Very interesting blog my friend. Lots of food for thought in this post. WOW

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the kind words Dan.

J. J. in Phila said...

Very good blog.

I'm a former welfare caseworker and tend to see the differences between the theory and the fact.

Nice blog.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks JJ.

RoaVaPD said...

If you can find the book "Signal Zero" by George Kirkham it's a great read. Basically, he's an academic criminal justice professor who is challenged by a police officer student to put up or shut up. He puts himself through training and works several months in a violent patrol area. His transformation from theoretical professor to realistic cop is fascinating. He went back to teaching but maintained reserve status near his school. It's been out of print for a while but you can find copies at the library and online.

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the book suggestion Officer. I was not familiar with that one before, but read a review and it looks like a great read for me.

It is amazing the price difference online. I found someone trying to sell the hardcover version for $75 while you can get the paperback for $12--I think the paper sounds more appealing.