Posted on October 21, 2014

Race, Age, and Police Killings

Robert VerBruggen, Real Clear Policy, October 21, 2014


I downloaded all of the FBI Supplementary Homicide Reports (the data set used by both ProPublica and Vox) from 2007 through 2011, and pulled the ages, races, and ethnicities of those killed by police or identified as homicide offenders. (For offenders I excluded justifiable homicides, accidents, and negligence. Also, in some cases more than one offender is listed, but hunting those secondary offenders down through computer code would have been fairly elaborate, so I left them off.) I focused on those who were identified as white but not also as Hispanic, and those identified as black. The ethnicity data are spotty, so this probably still counts some Hispanics as white.


Here’s how the ages shake out for those killed by police:


Note that these are raw numbers; they are not adjusted for the fact that there are nearly five times more non-Hispanic whites than blacks in the U.S. {snip}

The same thing is true of homicide offenders, though higher sample sizes make the data look more orderly:


Finally, here’s the ratio of those killed by police to homicide offenders by age and race. If anything, the white ratio is higher:


Or, to look at the question differently, the ratio of blacks to non-Hispanic whites is .82:1 for police killings and 1.5:1 for homicides.

Two conclusions here. One, while this certainly doesn’t prove police bias is irrelevant, it does call into question how important it is. And two, when it comes to the interaction between age and violence, there are very different patterns for whites and blacks. This pattern should be taken into account when we look at statistics in specific age ranges–and it might deserve more study in itself.