Hispanic men face high risk of deadly police interaction

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Among men of color, Hispanic males are two times more likely to have a fatal interaction with the police in neighborhoods that have a high percentage of Hispanic residents, according to a new study.

The research also indicates police agencies with more Hispanic officers are associated with higher odds of Hispanic fatalities.

“We can’t just assume it’s only black males at risk.”

The results suggest that even the most diverse police forces are not exempt from the need for reforms within their ranks, according to study coauthor Chris St. Vil, an assistant professor in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work.

“We should be taking a closer look at specific neighborhood mechanisms and police agency characteristics in order to better understand this crisis,” says St. Vil, an expert in trauma, violence, and victimization.

“There are nuances and idiosyncrasies we need to take into consideration that may vary from community to community, police agency to police agency, and district to district. We can’t just assume it’s only black males at risk.”

Those mechanisms include unemployment rates, high school dropout statistics, education levels, and population, according to St. Vil.

“Crime rates alone don’t explain this problem,” he says. “We must include these other factors and how they contribute to social disorganization and possibly more aggressive tactics by police.”

Lack of good data

The research is the first to merge a crowd-sourcing data set with a nationally representative sample of law enforcement agencies contained in the Bureau of Justice Statistics Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics (LEMAS).

Part of the challenge for researchers examining fatal interactions with police (FIP) is the absence of reliable data from which to begin their studies, explains St. Vil.

“The motivation behind this research was based on the fact that data collected by federal agencies is not comprehensive,” says St. Vil. “Reiterating a statement by former US Attorney General Eric Holder back in 2015, the federal government lacks the ability to comprehensively track the number of incidents of either uses of force directed at police officers or uses of force by police and that obtaining better data on police shootings would represent a common-sense step to address serious concerns about the need to safeguard civil liberties.”

Until federal agencies begin to collect and record accurate data, St. Vil says researchers will not have the information necessary to draw conclusions that inform a national dialogue about the depth of the problem.

“Accurate data can provide a better picture, and the answer can go either way, implicating or vindicating the police.”

“We have accurate data on how many members of an endangered species die each year, but we don’t have fully sanctioned federal statistics that can be used with confidence on fatal interactions with police,” says St. Vil. “Some are saying fatal interactions with police are not a problem; others are saying it is a problem.

“Accurate data can provide a better picture, and the answer can go either way, implicating or vindicating the police.”

Crowdsourcing instead

For the current study, the researchers used two publicly accessible databases: fatalencounters.org and killedbypolice.net. They merged these sources with the data provided by nearly 2,800 police agencies in the LEMAS survey to explore how fatal interactions with police from May 1, 2013 to January 1, 2015 vary across racial and ethnic groups and the role played by neighborhood and agency characteristics.

Although St. Vil says the study avoids problems that result in the kind of underreporting that characterize federal surveys the research is not without its limitations.

“We acknowledge the issues that might call crowdsourcing into question, but we wouldn’t have to use that data set if the feds were doing their job,” he says.

The research appears in Social Science and Medicine.

Source: University at Buffalo