Report: Race a Factor in Police ‘Friendly Fire’

Deepti Hajela, Buffalo News, May 27, 2010

A panel convened after two officer-on-officer shootings said police departments must confront both overt and unconscious racial bias among officers to reduce the risk of one officer harming another during “friendly fire.”

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The task force examined police-on-police confrontations around the country, finding 26 killings during the past three decades. The panel also found numerous other officer-on-officer confrontations that did not lead to a fatality.

The review of the confrontations found that “inherent or unconscious racial bias plays a role in shoot/don’t-shoot decisions made by officers of all races and ethnicities,” the report said.

Ten of the officers killed were off duty, including Edwards and Ridley. And nine of the those were minorities. The last white off-duty officer to be killed by an on-duty colleague died in 1982, the task force found. The report didn’t find any obvious racial or ethnic pattern among officers who were killed while on-duty.

It issued nine recommendations for local, state and federal police agencies that include developing protocols on how to take police action when an officer is off duty and how an off-duty officer should respond if challenged by on-duty police; and developing testing that measures for unconscious bias, training to help reduce any bias, and a policy that mandates all firearm discharges be reported.

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Maki Haberfeld, a professor of police studies at John Jay Criminal College of Justice who wasn’t involved with the study, said it’s nearly impossible to separate race from these incidents, but not because officers are inherently racist. Police are trained to identify suspects based on body movements and behavioral patterns, but also on the types of paradigms in the neighborhood, she said.

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But Haberfeld said she favors any training that would diffuse or minimize stereotypes police officers may have.

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