Earth & Conservation

How Can Lethal Force By Police Be Reduced in the US?

Access to technology like smartphones and analytics have shown to lower fatal shootings by police, while body cameras have actually shown an increase.

<p>Activists march in Cleveland, Ohio the day after a grand jury declined to indict Cleveland Police officer Timothy Loehmann for the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice in 2014 // <a href="http://www.gettyimages.com/search/2/image?artist=Angelo%20Merendino&family=editorial">Angelo Merendino</a>, Getty Images <span></span></p>

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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A recent study from the National Bureau of Economic Research shows that officers are more likely to use force on a black suspect than a white suspect. Although, surprisingly, this same study also found that police are no more likely to actually fire their weapon at a black suspect than a white suspect.

Many of the same studies on implicit bias also show that it can be overcome. Chicago and Los Angeles police departments have both incorporated anti-bias curriculum into their police training programs, although without using a standardized method. The office of California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris is currently developing the country's first certified anti-biased training program.

The Department of Justice is planning its own anti-bias course that involves an eight-hour curriculum where both new and senior officers take the anti-bias test and discuss the outcome. There will also be role-playing scenarios to help officers develop new associations and tests given afterwards to evaluate the effectiveness.

Ongoing research on the use of technology and incorporating anti-bias education into police training are just two means in what will likely be a years-long attempt to address the use of deadly force.