Police in the United States shot and killed 990 civilians in 2015. In the wake of more lethal shootings by police this year, like the recent killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, many Americans are asking what can be done to reduce instances of lethal force by officers.
A common tactic for combating lethal force by police has been to require them to wear body cameras while on duty. However, a recent study from Temple University's Fox School of Business found that some technology, such as the use of smartphones and analytics, have helped decrease instances of lethal force, while wearable cameras have shown an increase.
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When police have smartphones or related devices in the field, they can use them to access data about a person of interest. They can look at criminal history records and gather more information first, before deciding to pursue a suspect.
Min-Seok Pang and Paul A. Pavlou, from the Fox School of Business analyzed data from the Washington Post on how technology plays into the way police officers perform their duties. The data shows that when officers had access to crime data or could access real-time information about someone, instances of fatal shootings dropped by 2.5 percent.
Alternatively, the data shows that when police were wearing body cameras, there was a 3.64 percent increase of civilians fatally shot by police. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the increase in fatal shootings was higher for African Americans and Latinos at 3.75 percent than for Caucasian and Asian Americans at 0.67 percent.
"Our findings suggest that body cameras generate less reluctance for police officers to use lethal force, because the wearable body cameras provide evidence that may justify the shooting and exonerate an officer from prosecution," Pavlou said.
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Currently millions of dollars are spent to incorporate body cameras into police forces across the country, but research suggests fatal shootings are more likely to decrease with better access to mobile technology. ".. decisions [on how to prevent fatal shootings] should be driven by evidence-based policy, and after careful consideration of scientific evidence," notes Dr. Pang.
Anti-bias training is another tactic some police departments have started to incorporate. Social scientists and psychologists have been studying what is known as implicit bias for several decades now. Implicit bias is the idea that every person has a subconscious bias toward groups of people based on defining characteristics such as gender, race and age.
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