Police-on-Police Shootings and the Puzzle of Unconscious Racial Bias
Professor Christopher Stone recently completed a study of police-on-police shootings as part of a task force he chaired in New York State. He reported on his findings and recommendations, exploring the role of race in policing decisions, methods to improve training and tactics to defuse police-on-police confrontations before they become fatal, and methods to improve the investigations of such shootings.
Laurie Robinson: Thank you Kris, that was good and short. I appreciate that. Well I am delighted to introduce our guest speaker Chris Stone. Now, Chris was with us on Monday for an all-day session on pattern or practice cases that we held here in this room that we sponsored with the Civil Rights Division at the Department and that NIJ, Ellen Scrivner here, organized. This was a very lively and rather heated days discussion and it was also a very productive day, and that was thanks in no small part to the fact that Chris Stone was the moderator of the discussion and debate.
We had the Attorney General here for part of the day, we had the Associate Attorney General, and my counterpart over at Civil Rights, Tom Perez. And most importantly we had luminaries from the field. Ellen called them, I think, “the royalty of the policing field.” And Chris did a truly outstanding job in keeping that a very, at times, heated discussion, going throughout the day.
And there was a reason that we selected Chris to serve as the moderator. I don't think we could think of anyone who has stronger credentials in his field of professionalism and policing than Chris Stone to serve in that role. And he certainly kind of validated our thinking in selecting him to serve in that position on Monday.
Now as Kris noted — Kris Rose noted — Chris Stone is the Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of the Practice of Criminal Justice and faculty chair of the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management at Harvard. That's quite a mouthful. You just roll that off your tongue. And he's done extensive empirical research in criminal justice both here and abroad. In fact, Chris has received the Order of the British Empire for his work in the United Kingdom. And Chris has been a very close partner of ours here at NIJ and OJP through the Harvard Executive Sessions series on policing up at the Kennedy School.
One of his many contributions, an important contribution, was his study of the consent decree entered in to by the city of Los Angeles in the aftermath of incidents of police misconduct by LAPD. And his most recent accomplishment is his study, along with others, of police-on-police shootings in New York, which of course he'll be talking about today. He was appointed by Governor Paterson to chair a task force on the issue, and the task force, as you know, recently submitted its report.
I also have to add here that I first got to know Chris during his years as the president and CEO of the Vera Institute of Justice where he made really stellar contributions. And while he was at Vera, the Justice Department turned to him frequently back in the '90s to moderate various meetings including several on improving police-community relations. So I would say Chris is an authority in the purest, purest sense of the word and I'm so very glad he could be with us today. Please join me in welcoming Chris Stone.
Chris Stone: Very nice. Thank you, Laurie. Thank you, Kris. And thank you all for coming today and for joining in this conversation. I'm looking forward to it. It has been a real journey over this last year working on this subject. But before I begin I'd like to ask you to join me in a moment of silence in memory of the 28 police officers killed in the mistaken identity police-on-police shootings since 1981 that we'll be talking about. In a moment I want to draw some lessons from those tragedies but first, let's pause together to honor their lives and their service.
Stone: Twenty-eight deaths in 29 years.
The last two officers you saw in those slides were NYPD officer Omar Edwards, killed 13 months ago in New York City, and Mount Vernon police officer Christopher Ridley killed 17 months before that in White Plains, New York. These two most recent tragedies reverberated powerfully, as did probably all of the others, not only within the ranks of law enforcement, but these two with the broader public. In press accounts, in public debates and in formal conversations among police officers there was widespread speculation about the role that race may have played in these last two shootings, not based on any specific evidence of bias in these two cases, but emanating instead from the widely shared suspicion that race plays a role in many police confrontations as it does in American society generally.
In response to these two cases in New York, Governor Paterson empanelled a task force to examine police-on-police shootings and confrontations. I chaired that task force, as Laurie said.
And that task force at my insistence was limited to nine members, none of whom were elected officials. And they included two national figures in law enforcement, George Gascón, the current chief in San Francisco and Ella Bully-Cummings, the retired chief in Detroit. And we had a full-time executive director whom I hired from outside of government. So it was a serious national look at this issue. The funding and support for the task force entirely came from New York State. I am grateful to the Open Society Institute for permitting me some time away from my teaching at Harvard. Their contribution was to free my time up a bit. And NIJ also helped, not with direct financial support, but allowing us to use some of the research and work we were doing to conduct some of the interviews I'll talk about with the police scholars about this topic.
In our work we were charged to look especially at shootings and confrontations between on-duty and off-duty officers, between uniformed and undercover officers, and particularly between officers of different races, nationalities and ethnicities — issues of race permeated our work. In the six months the governor gave us to do our work, we undertook a nationwide systematic investigation of mistaken identity police-on-police shootings, the first time — to our knowledge — that an independent panel has conducted such an inquiry.
We have so far identified 28 fatal shootings of this kind in the period between 1981 and 2009, and that's not easy to do. They are hard to find in the data.
In addition, we invited current and retired law enforcement officers from across the country to share examples of mistaken identity confrontations from their own experience, resulting in our collecting and analyzing over 300 stories of such confrontations. At three public hearings and through written submissions, we heard police officers of all ranks, including several survivors of near-fatal mistaken identity shootings, friends and relatives of officers who've been killed, concerned citizens, social scientists. We also commissioned, as I said, in-depth interviews, with NIJ support, with 10 leading scholars who have studied policing for more than a decade each. And we solicited advice from a score of experts and practitioners, police veterans.
We had to do all that because there simply is no scholarly material on this. This is not a subject that has been studied. And it was interesting, actually, hearing the reflections of the sort of luminaries of police social science in this country look back on their years with police agencies and try to understand what these cases were about. I'll share some of that with you today.
The report we issued a few weeks ago offers many lessons, from methods to improve training and tactics to diffuse police-on-police confrontations before they become fatal, and improve the investigation of those shootings. Also the procedure that can improve the treatment of the officers and the families involved. But equally important, the work offers a chance to better understand the role of race in policing decisions generally and to identify specific actions that police agencies can take and the government can take at every level to reduce the effect of racial bias, even unconscious racial bias, in police decisions to shoot in fast-moving, dangerous situations.
So what did we find? Any individual fatal police-on-police shooting can easily traumatize and sometimes polarize an entire police department. Not only are the individual officers present at the scene affected deeply, but the organization routines that normally structure an agency's response to a shooting can be thrown into confusion as word of an officer killed spreads unevenly through a department, as other officers react with understandable emotion, and as the deepest of regrets grip everyone involved. We heard of departments in which simply the removal of the body from a street was just, no one knew what to do, no one knew how to do it, and a body of a slain police officer lay on the street in public view for hours and hours after the shooting simply because the department, small department, was paralyzed by the event.
We heard of a major department where the officer was shot and killed, taken to the hospital, and either by coincidence or inadvertence, his brother, also a police officer, was given the radio run to attend the hospital not knowing that he was going to his own brother's side. The story, one senior, one chief of police in one city that encountered one of these, a chief who took over two years after the shooting of this police officer said he found the department still completely traumatized, unable to talk about it, and for years after he would find himself in the company of a young officer and the officer would just look up and say, “Chief, I was there,” and he'd know what he was talking about.
These are huge events in these departments. We call them in the report “rare events,” 28 deaths in 29 years, not very frequent. But for an individual department it's often the only fatal shooting, or one of only a small number of fatal shootings in a whole year. New York City police officers kill in shootings approximately 9 to 12 civilians a year. When one of those shootings is a police officer, it may be rare, but it's a huge event in that department.
While these individual incidents for individual departments have these traumatic effects, nationally we can see a few trends over time. Almost all of the officers of color killed in these incidents, almost all of them, were taking police action while off duty at the time they were killed. Nine out of the 13 officers of color were killed while off duty, taking police action off duty, whereas almost none of the white officers were off duty at the time, just 1 out of 15. This is not a sample, this is the universe so our usual statistical tools about sampling power, but even with these small numbers, that difference is almost certainly not chance variation.
To describe the trend another way, as far as we can determine, only one off duty white police officer has been killed in a mistaken identity police-on-police shooting in the United States over the past 29 years, whereas nine off duty officers of color — eight black and one Hispanic — have been killed since that white officer was killed in 1982, including both officers Ridley and Edwards, the two most recent. For white police officers in short, the dangers such as they are, virtually all lie in undercover and plainclothes assignments. For officers of color, the dangers are greatest when they draw their weapons while off duty. These stark racial differences in duty assignment at the time the officers were killed are important both for understanding differences in how the problem of police-on-police shootings … how the problems are viewed across race and ethnicity, and for the preventive steps the police departments have taken and should take to reduce their occurrence.
The difference may explain why there has been so little scholarly attention to the problems of mistaken identity police-on-police shootings, for the scholarship on policing has largely been confined to the study of police officers on duty. Of the 10 police scholars we interviewed for our report, all conceived the issue as principally about plainclothes and undercover officers acting on duty. Among them, the scholars knew of only three incidents among these 10 scholars, with 100 years of research experience or more among them — only three incidents were they aware of involving off duty officers being briefly mistaken for criminals: two officers trying to break up bar fights and a third who had drawn his gun to apprehend someone he had caught breaking into his car. There were no injuries in any of those three incidents.
In contrast, the near miss cases the scholars talked about and the instances where confronted officers were roughed up by challenging officers before being correctly identified — all occurred in plainclothes and undercover operations. So when we interviewed the scholars to try and capture their experience over their careers, all of those cases, with three exceptions, turned out to be undercover and plainclothes. The blind spot in scholarly research may not be about these shootings, which are very rare by any measure, but may be the experiences of off duty officers more generally. This off duty experience may be quite different across racial and ethnic lines. As police departments become more diverse with several large departments now admitting new classes of recruits in which the majority are people of color, this blind spot in our understanding of the experience of police officers should be addressed. And I'll come back to this at the end of the presentation.
Even taken nationally, these shootings are certainly rare and they resonate deeply.
They resonate in three ways. First, they are powerful; they are the proverbial tip of the iceberg, alerting us to the fact that there are literally thousands of everyday confrontations between police officers, one of whom mistakes another for an offender.
Second, they resonate in communities of color where they seem an extreme example of mistaken shootings of officers and civilians more generally. If a black officer … It's often said to us, if a black officer can be mistaken for a dangerous criminal and killed by the police, then surely any black person can be mistakenly killed. That sort of thinking permeates the conversations we heard about these. Indeed this resonance is probably the main reason that these stories show up in the mainstream press and indeed why a public task force, not simply a police internal review, was what the governor created in New York. We were charged specifically to look at ways we could deal with these situations that would improve both officer safety and public safety. It's that second resonance that's so important there.
And third, they resonate with the special experiences of officers of color, and we heard that over and over again. For a long time I think all of us on the task force were struck at how emotional, how powerful, the conversations we had with officers of color from across the country in response to these cases.
These everyday undercover operations are most obvious — the dangers of these confrontations are probably most obvious for undercover and plainclothes officers. So let's talk a little bit about the everyday confrontations first in these shootings.
One of the responses, and the departments moved first to this question of undercover and plainclothes, was evident for us in that almost always the response of the department, wherever it is, is about training, and its training of undercover and plainclothes officers. The NYPD this time had these, they had an off duty officer killed who was in a plainclothes detail. Their response was first to increase training for plainclothes and undercover officers, not for all officers since everyone goes off duty. The off duty link only really showed up in the data as we worked the study, and I think was a surprise both to the NYPD and to the field generally.
So let's start with undercover and plainclothes officers. Obvious concern, and we heard lots of stories, there are lots of these stories, not just the ones that ended in fatal confrontations, but drug buys that go wrong, undercover drug officers who all of a sudden are being robbed by the person they're trying to buy drugs from, guns are drawn, backup comes in, and when the backup comes in they can't tell the undercover officers with the gun out from the offenders who were the targets. A lot of confusion, a lot of people on patrol even in big well-trained cities think undercover officers have somewhere on them a shield or an id. They don't in a lot of cities. And plainclothes officers, even though, increasingly, training appropriately tells them to give way to uniformed officers if they're on the scene taking police action. Many stories, for example one we talked about in the report where a plainclothes officer is searching an abandoned building for a man with a gun, uniformed officers arrive outside, see a plainclothes officer through one of the windows carrying a gun, shoot and hit him in the hand.
We were told over … as we heard stories from white officers, officers of color, and as you saw, the racial differences on these, on the undercover and plainclothes cases, are not in any particular pattern. This seemed to affect officers right across races, ethnicities, nationalities and ages. The dangers are obvious.
Undercover and plainclothes officers may have a series of advantages though in dealing with it. They may be accompanied by uniformed officers nearby who can take the police action instead of them doing it. There are undercover and plainclothes officers themselves, maybe wearing the color of the day in particular departments allowing uniformed officers, if they know the color of the day, to at least verify that they're a police officer. Plainclothes officers when they take action can have an arm band or other article of clothing that's particularly coded. There are increasingly simple raid jackets with police, the name of the agency on them. And because plainclothes officers are on duty, and particularly plainclothes officers, they often have an array of equipment other than their gun with them that lets them use less-than-lethal force in a situation and prevents these situations from escalating.
For off duty officers of course who draw their weapons to take police action, many of these security devices are not available. They will almost never have a radio with them. Some may have a cell phone but the training to get people to use that cell phone to alert a dispatcher that they're taking police action while off duty is only beginning to get into place. They may have received some brief training about how to react off duty, but the training is very spotty around the country on taking police action off duty and how to avoid these kinds of confrontations, particularly the fatal ones.
Off duty as I said, they're not only unlikely to be in contact with the dispatcher, but they're also more likely to draw their gun early in a confrontation because they don't have the other array of equipment with them. It's significant; the state of Wisconsin has now issued new training guidelines for off duty officers, and they can only enforce them when off duty officers are taking action in a different part of the state. This is a clue to the potential role for the federal government. So Wisconsin says, the state says, “We can't issue guidelines for what you do in your own department; that's up to the department. We can't issue guidelines of what you do when you go to a different state.” But the law in Wisconsin now says in the state of Wisconsin if you're a police officer taking action outside of your own jurisdiction, here are the rules. And one of those rules are, if you're going to carry, you must also carry pepper spray. You may not just carry a weapon, for just this reason.
So two insights emerge from our examination of the relationship of the fatal shootings to more frequent experiences of confrontations. First, the best departments in their training balance instruction for challenging and confronting officers. This chart is typical, this is sort of a composite of what we found in many of the departments that do this balancing and they'll typically have two columns like this where they'll go back and forth. The point is they're training in equal measure. And it's that equality that they're focusing on, the confronting of the challenging officer and the confronted officer.
And these elements are in a couple of major departments including New York where we were focused. And I just want you to notice a few things about that. First of all, it was, I think many of us on the task force, including a lot of the law enforcement executives, were surprised at how frequently chiefs in small departments that have even dealt with these cases would come over and say, “You know, it's hard to say this to the family of the surviving officer, but you know, if they just dropped the gun this wouldn't have happened.” We heard many people say, “You know, the burden is really on the confronted officer,” or training directors say, “The burden has to be on the confronted officer.” That is very, very common talk about this subject in policing.
And what I want you to notice about this training and many of the new trainings coming out is that they reject that idea. The training is equally based for the challenging and the confronted officer, and you can see why that happens. The challenging officer has no idea if they're dealing with a police officer. Someone's got a weapon drawn. They're in fear for their life. The odds that this is going to be a member of the service is going to be very low. And it's the confronted officer who's supposed to basically defer to the uniformed officer, to the challenging officer and obey the instructions. But you can see just from these kinds of things what often goes wrong here.
Take the middle one, “Police, don't move,” for the challenging officer. The NYPD in response to the latest shooting interviewed or had surveys filled out by all of their undercover officers in the whole department and just asked them, and they were flabbergasted to discover how frequently these kinds of confrontations occur and all the little routines and things that the officers had. But they had a couple of suggestions which have been incorporated into the new training video the NYPD has produced. And probably the biggest message in that is for challenging officers to always, always use the words, “Police, don't move,” not, “Drop the gun, put your hands up, get down on the ground,” because if it's an officer they will not comply with that, and if they've got a gun and they're not complying, that just escalates the confrontation one more. What they will comply with and what they're trained to comply with is, “Police, don't move.” Not some variation, not something you see heard on TV, “Police, don't move.” Drilling that into every officer is now a big priority in the NYPD's training.
On the other side you have challenging officers then trained when they hear that, freeze and obey exactly the instructions of the challenging officer. It can then be, “Put the gun down,” again take people through the steps. Taking cover, there's lots of good reasons, way beyond these shootings, to take cover when you're a challenging officer. But that again comes up, it buys you just a few seconds, sometimes even a part of a second, it can make all the difference and save lives to deal with these concerns.
Perhaps one of the things, these trainings are almost always aimed — one thing is about the balance. The second thing, the second insight that came from our work was understanding what police departments like New York were doing with these trainings. Their problem, remember, and most recent shootings, are off duty officers but they don't train on off duty officers. They're worried if they do that that it might encourage more off duty officers just trying to take police action, and they really don't want off duty officers taking a lot of police action off duty. There are circumstances to protect life, or protect a member of the public where you do that. There are rules increasingly in departments that you can never do that to protect property. You should be a good witness. Many of you will be familiar with this kind of instruction. But they wanted to get at the problem of off duty officers, but they used the concern and police to protect members of their own force and they used it with undercover and plainclothes.
So for example, the most recent training video in New York has a huge piece, probably the second biggest lesson after the words, “Police, don't move,” is don't stereotype. An officer of color, undercover officer of color after undercover officer of color comes up on the screen and talks about how you cannot tell what a police officer looks like. There is no way to tell what a police officer looks like. Departments are becoming more diverse. These officers are designed to blend in. And with a little photography they move people back from their street persona to their uniformed persona just to illustrate how much like your stereotype criminal offender, drug dealer, gang member these officers look like. They're doing that. They haven't had an undercover or plainclothes officer fatality in New York in years. What they've had were off duty cases. But they're using the undercover officers on the force to talk about what people look like and how you can't stereotype, you can't use that. It is, I think, a brilliant shift and use of the undercover, of the officers of color within departments to train on the importance of not stereotyping on race or ethnicity in departments more generally.
So while the training video is all about protecting undercover officers, the lessons are designed to protect everybody, including civilians. And again, just a point, you can see how important for the off duty officers the training for the challenging officer is because if you do not have a color of the day, if you don't have a way of alerting the dispatcher before you take police action and you're the confronted officer, all you've got is loud identification of who you are, obeying the challenging officer's instructions, and avoiding reflexive spin. For those of you for whom this terminology is new, the problem is two things happen, and you see them in the stories we looked at over and over again.
One is, you'll have an off duty officer, a plainclothes officer in a fight with or trying to subdue an offender. They've got a gun out. Uniformed officers come on the scene. They don't know what they're seeing and they say, “Stay on the ground, stay on the ground, drop the gun.” And the police officer thinks they're talking to the offender, the police officer thinks they know, “I'm a police officer,” and so that police officer stands up sometimes with the gun in their hand. That's what happened in Mount Vernon to Christopher Ridley and he was shots from three of the four uniformed officers right away who were around him. Not understanding the instruction is for you, is a huge problem here.
So obeying the challenging officer is not as easy as it sounds. You've got to train for it, you've got to understand what you're doing. The other thing that people do is they'll look in the direction of the command. So again, I'm an off duty officer, I've got a suspect, I'm chasing a suspect. I hear like, “Put your hands up,” or, “Police, drop the gun,” and I turn my head to where the voice is coming from. And if you turn, even if you think you're just turning your head, you're bringing the gun around and the officer sees that gun coming around and they shoot.
So that's what trainers call “reflexive spin.” It's the turning towards where the command came from. And again, undercover officers and plainclothes officers are increasingly drilled not to do that, to lock their joints. You hear, “Police, don't move,” and you lock in place. But training every off duty? Every officer goes off duty. A lot easier to train your plainclothes and your undercover officers in small groups than it is to train everybody to lock if you're off duty.
That's enough on the everyday confrontation. We can come back in discussion if you'd like. Let me move on to the shootings of officers and civilians, the issue about race in these cases.
It's clear that at least, that for, I think, every officer of color we talked with and most of the white officers we talked with, acknowledged that racial stereotypes are at play when police are identifying threats. We heard exactly the same phrase from many white and black senior commanders. You're working in a high crime neighborhood. You see a white man chasing a black man, the white man has a gun out. Your first instinct is, “Probably a cop.” May not be, but probably a cop. You see a black man chasing a black man with a gun out down the street, you're thinking, “Probably an offender.” That fundamental first instinct, we heard that story across the country, departments in big cities and small, a basic understanding that race matters here. That race is part of the picture of how people are getting their judgments.
We heard story after story from, we had the retired head of the Port Authority police of New York and New Jersey told us a story on the record that many, many officers, senior officers of color told us from departments across the country. He was living in a largely white area. He said when he's off duty, he never carries his weapon, he doesn't carry his weapon, for his own safety, particularly in his own neighborhood because he is stopped five or six times a year in his own neighborhood on his morning jog, and he's says it's always an effort to explain to whoever it is that he's not just on the job, he's actually in charge of the police agency. If he's near his car, he's really in trouble. He's much more likely to be stopped because it's a big fancy car and people stop and say, “Where'd you get that car?” and all sorts of things. But he says, “If I had a gun on me, five or six times a year every year, there's going to be trouble.” So he doesn't carry to protect himself. But he knows it's about race. He knows his white colleagues don't have that same concern.
So this issue of race is huge, but how do you deal with it? We talked a little bit about how in the everyday confrontations — training about stereotyping and using the undercover officers, particularly undercover officers of color within a department can be a way into the conversation through an officer safety door into the conversation about racial stereotypes. But the other major thing I think we discovered, and we discovered really with the help of the New York Police Department and researchers around the country is the growing body of work on unconscious or inherent racial bias.
Many of you, particularly if you have college aged children as I do, or formerly college aged children as I do, will know about a set of psychological tests often done on the computer, there's lots of them on the internet, that test for essentially kind of unconscious racial bias through the identification and the association of images of black and white, Latino, Asian people with various words and attributes. And it's a test that asks you to identify from a series of words — “friendly,” “scary,” other things like that — associations with photographs. And you think you're being tested on whether you associate good or bad things with the images. What you're really being tested on is how quickly you press the association and people — white people, black people, Latino people, Asian people — pretty much across races and ethnicities all take a little longer to associate good words with black and Latino images than they do with white images, and a little faster with the positive images for whites.
So that device, that psychological device, has been adapted by a series of researchers for police testing. And what they do is they take images of black and white, Latino, Asian people with Coke cans, wallets, guns of various kinds in their hands, and they're asking you to make a shoot, don't shoot decision.
And again you think you're being tested for accuracy. What you're being tested for is how long it takes you to make the distinction on different pieces. That research produced, particularly research of that kind done by Josh Correll at the University of Chicago, but there are a number of researchers doing this — produced some results that the NYPD after the Omar Edwards shooting found particularly powerful.
And the results were this. They tested ordinary members of the public, college students, a couple of control samples, found lots of unconscious racial bias. They tested police officers; they found the same unconscious racial bias. But all of a sudden that's not a bad story, right? Police are drawn from the general public. It's not surprising — it was no greater racial bias in the police.
But with police experience and training, there was at least some suggestion in some of the research that the racial bias reduced. And that, even though it was still there, it was lower than it was in the general population. The general population, at least some of them, don't have guns and aren't exercising force so you'd still be concerned about it but the good news was it least seemed plausible — and that was all, is a plausible hypothesis — that police experience and/or police training may actually help reduce the unconscious racial bias everybody in the society has. And if that's true, how irresponsible would it be not to understand how that happens and to improve it more.
So the NYPD embarked on an experiment in the wake of the most recent case, which our task force was working with them on. This is a letter from Ray Kelly to Governor Paterson during the work of the task force after we'd begun working on this with them. And I'll just – it describes a number of steps they're taking, but I'll just pull out. They hired Josh Correll from the University of Chicago, who is now conducting this research for them. And this is how Ray Kelly describes it:
“Dr. Correll, last July after the shooting, made baseline measurements of all recruits who entered our academy in July 2009. These baselines were created before these recruits had experienced any police instruction. The next set of measurements,” so the next round of this testing was done in December of last year. He's writing in November, so it's in the future — “will determine whether or not and to what extent academy training has had an effect on the recruits decision making processes during shoot/don't shoot situations. A second phase, now getting going, of Dr. Correll's work will involve the development of a methodology to assess racial bias in decision making under high-stress conditions and the degree to which training affects such bias. By determining what level, amount, and intensity of training best reduces racial bias in officers, the department will be able to adopt new instructional methods. Scenario-based training and video-simulated training will be tailored to incorporate the results of Dr. Correll's study, maximizing the ability of New York City police officers to restrain behavior and bias and act according to objective observations.”
Just take a minute and look at that language. From a police commissioner to a governor talking comfortably about the existence of bias that needs to be reduced because of a hope, maybe even a confidence that they now have something to do about it. We have spent, if you had to look, I think, at the biggest shift on dealing with issues of race and policing in my professional time, it was about 15 years ago when the language of racial profiling, because of a huge error by the DEA and the New Jersey Turnpike, but introduced the term “racial profiling” into American vocabulary. Since then, all three presidents who've served, both parties, have promised the Congress that they will end racial profiling. But if you're in a police department, and we've now got a little more than half the states requiring all this data collection, and it's an issue that no police chief can afford not to be prepared to discuss with the press or their own community.
On the other hand, what do you do about it? What exactly are you supposed to do to reduce this? We were hoping that just by collecting data and raising consciousness, the data would change. Now you see every month, department after department, the data look pretty much the same, year after year, in terms of disparities in stops and searches and departments and chiefs ask me, I'm sure they ask many of you, “OK, so we get all these data, but in the end, you know, it's trying to explain why it happens. But what do you really do?”
That shift in consciousness and attention in a conversation was huge and important. But it's unfinished business. What we do about race and police stereotyping is undone. Here I think the reason you have language like this is at least there's the hope that there actually may be something really concrete you can do in a police department. We talked earlier about the training that you can do using undercovers, but this testing, NYPD is the only department and the first department that's actually doing the longitudinal work to test officers when they start and test the same officers again six months later. And they are going to, it doesn't say this in the letter, going to test them again six months later after that after they've had experience on the street. Beginning to track that is probably hugely important.
Now there are big questions about this testing and I'm not here, and we did not recommend the department to start testing, routinely, all their officers. It's very experimental and there's no scientific validation yet that even unconscious bias that shows up on the test, even if it's real, actually correlates with behavior in the field.
But this kind of research will tell us that, and there's no reason, in my view, that the NYPD should be doing this alone in the country. This is research; this is technology that police officials have embraced. They embrace it and they have space and permission to embrace it because of the pain these cases cause in departments, and it's a problem they really want to solve. And it's an opportunity for us to think about these issues of racial bias and figure out if there are tools. And imagine if it turns out what Ray Kelly hopes is true, that you can not only test for this but you can begin to tweak and change the training in ways that more greatly reduce that racial bias. The implications are huge.
There are, of course, other implications because whatever the testing does, however much you reduce the racial bias, there will be a distribution, and you'll have to begin to confront what you might do with the four officers in your training program who, while everybody's racial bias was reduced, these four remained two or three standard deviations away from the mean on showing unconscious racial bias. What do you do with that? One chief who talked to our panel suggested, “Well, we'll never, we can't remove someone from the force or discipline them because they show up as having unconscious racial bias on this test. But you know, we could define qualification, annual qualification with your fire arms as including … not relapsing as it were or moving back on the racial bias tests.
My point there, I don't know if that's a good idea or a bad idea, I'll leave that to the professional police trainers and executives in this audience and around the field. What I do know is there is creativity being exercised. People want to find the solution to this and they are willing to embrace and experiment with technologies and research tools like this that in other times they might not.
Finally let's just talk a little bit about the special experiences of officers of color. There are … I talked a little bit about off duty experiences, but what we heard from officers of color is that in their lives the issue of being a police officer is different than it is for their white colleagues, at least they think so. Again, this may not be true, certainly isn't going to be true for everyone. And you can assess how powerful the statement is.
But I can't tell you how many times we heard about the police officer in a jurisdiction that had never had one of these shootings who goes home to the dinner table and when this shooting is there, someone sees it on the news and says, “You know, look at this. You know, they're using you. They're sending you all this dangerous stuff, and now they're going to turn around and they're going to kill you.”
The concern about … we know from the BJS and Gallup surveys that confidence in the police as an institution in 2009 among African American adults in the United States is about 38 percent, whereas it's about 68 percent among whites. So we know already there are differences in confidence in the institution among African American males generally in the country. But we also know that with incarceration with essentially 1 in 10 African American men in their 20s or 30s incarcerated on any given day, we know that with the high rates of victimization, victims of violence in African American communities, and we know with the large numbers of people being stopped and searched, even if every one of those stops is legitimate and appropriate and an important crime fighting technique, we know the experience of policing and concern about policing is particularly high in these communities.
One chief was telling a group of us recently, “You know, I'm a chief. I've been a chief for 15 years but my cousin Ricky, he spent most of his life in prison. And some of the time he's out he comes and stays with us.” The experience of families in African American communities is simply much more likely to contain the experience of not just police officers but of offenders, and people who've been stopped, and people who've complained about police conduct. And so, while the concerns about joining the police may be under the surface, most dinner table conversation, at holidays and when these kinds of incidents happen they trigger those conversations, and those conversations come back, and officers find themselves on the defensive.
Families' experience of incarceration, of victimization, and of violent offending are mobilized in these moments. And these confrontations spark that and bring them back to the surface in these families.
We heard pleas from police officers of color and senior police officers in particular that this had to be addressed because these communities, as they would say, these communities need these young men and women to be joining the police. They need their service. They need their help and these kinds of shootings just tear at their ability to do that. We heard white chiefs talk about how an incident like this in New York state affects minority police recruiting in St. Louis. That experience needs to be addressed.
So, I'm finishing up. Just two more slides. We made nine recommendations and I just want to go through them quickly and then take your questions.
First, we urge the adoption of national protocols of the kind that I put up on the screen — what a confronting officer, what a confronted officer does. There is a clip, I couldn't believe it, there's a clip in one major department's training that says specifically, “You can't tell what a police officer looks like. You can't even tell from their gun because there are off duty officers from other states visiting our city. They're entitled to carry their weapons, and they may draw their weapon and take police action and you may know that's not a police authorized gun. You cannot judge it.”
But they have to be reminded about the interstate movement on an 11 minute training video, that that's important enough that that figures in this department's video is a reminder that this is a national issue and we will not solve it without a national single protocol. You can train everybody in New York to hear, “Police, don't move.” They train them in New York that that's a professional recognized police command, but how recognized is it? How many departments use that same protocol?
Police training. Obviously we talked a lot about that and talked about the police training not only in how to deal with the situations, simulator training, scenario training. It's expensive. It needs help. But it works hugely better than just classroom instruction or lectures or anything else. But the other training is for chiefs to be able to deal with the issues of race, to be able to deal with issues of diversity in their own departments when these happen.
A lot of the breakdown in departments in the face of these tragedies is often the inexperience of the chief in being able to confront the issues. We had one chief who had a shooting like this. One of the officers on the scene was African American and on the evening news the night of the shooting he was saying to everybody, “Well, you know, I don't think race was an issue here because one of the shooting officers was African American.” That officer was already having a horrible experience being part of a group where the death of a fellow African American officer had resulted. But then to hear the chief sort of trying to explain that this wasn't a racial incident because he was present — that somehow proved it — just tore that department apart. So police training both for the officers and for the leadership.
Bias measurement. We talked about that in our recommendation is that NIJ should be encouraging police departments with appropriate human subjects, controls and other things in an anonymous way to be able to test these kinds of tools and learn more about the potential to help departments deal with this.
One of our taskforce members, Ella Bully-Cummings, former chief in Detroit, had a revelation in the middle of our hearings, talking about, “You know, we do a lot of diversity training in policing. We don't do diversity training about diversity in our organizations.” It's all about diversity in the community, and about police-community relations. And can't we be doing something about diversity in our own departments?
The investigations in so many of these cases broke down. Good investigators who normally know what to do in the emotional and conflictual context of these cases screwed up the investigations. And so the idea of creating at least, in our recommendations it was for New York State, but for any on a regional or statewide basis just a group of investigators who are trained in how to do these investigations, how to deal with the emotional issues, the psychological issues within departments in these cases, and are just available as support, not to come in and take over the investigation but to be there for support so that a chief knows that they're dealing with this. There's somebody a little more dispassionate, a little more trained, ready to handle what are rare situations. We do that with lots of rare events. That's how we deal with police work that has to be done on very rare events. We understand these as rare events that need that kind of support too.
One of the reasons we have so much trouble with the data, even since the published report we were able, with the help of some e-mails we received, to reclassify two cases that we hadn't understood were mistaken identity shootings as mistaken identity shootings, even in the weeks since we published. It's because the data on this are so bad.
Some departments like New York have a public report of every firearm discharged but there many, many police departments in New York State and probably around the country that simply don't report even discharges. You're never going to get people to report every time a gun is un-holstered. You're not going to find these cases that way. There are some advocates who urged us to recommend that. We thought that was impractical. But there is no reason why when a police officer discharges a weapon, there shouldn't be a record of that discharge.
Now we heard lots about all the animals we discharged things at and other kinds of things. But even that is not a reason not to record the discharge. We have still questions to this day in several of these shootings because officers came back and there was no way to account for the bullets in the gun because no one knew how many bullets were in their weapons when they went out in the first place. That kind, we know how to fix that in this field, and getting better reporting on discharge of firearms is the way to begin to get into these cases.
Prosecution transparency. Almost never is anyone going to be prosecuted in these cases. These are tragedies of the deepest dimension. They often produce community concern and calls for special prosecutors for indictments, but certainly we never found an indictment in any of these cases. I would be very surprised if I lived to see anyone ever indicted in any of these cases. But the problem with a lot of those investigations is that that's what they're organized around and so they are not very transparent.
And we had prosecutors who lived through this come back to us and say, “You know, if I had to do it again I would've used the grand jury differently. I would've done the investigation differently so that I could release more information to the public, not the first night, but as the investigation proceeds, the prosecution goes.” Good prosecutors know how to do an investigation when they know the principal purpose is for public confidence and a public report. And it's very unlikely you're going to be dealing with a criminal exercise They know how to do that. Doing them in these cases where so many instinct is to try and keep the story tight and closed. There were still incidents of these last two cases we weren't able to get to because of grand jury secrecy rules.
We make an unusual recommendation and that is, it occurred to us that because police departments were so convinced that they could train the confronted officer to be better at following police instructions to avoid escalating the situation, that why can't we take those lessons and apply them to civilians as well? There are lots of — I don't mean in a formal program or requiring civilians to get training on how to deal with a confronted officer. But the fact is, in many cities, not only are there nonprofit groups and community groups that do training on how to — for citizens, for civilians, lots of high schools, lots of colleges, lots of even junior high schools have trainings on how to deal with a police confrontation for their students. Those are completely unmonitored, completely unregulated, and completely unsupported by law enforcement formally even though we found in many jurisdictions the fraternal organizations, social organizations among particularly officers of color, are often on their own time volunteering and teaching in these programs.
We met lots of officers who on their own time are teaching at their local high schools about how to deal with police confrontations. Well, at least convene and try to understand what that training is, try to improve it, try to strengthen that. Even developing networks of the nonprofit community groups that do training in the schools about how to avoid escalating the confrontation with police could be done. And that support from the government at a state or federal level would be noticed and appreciated.
Finally, we recommended that we needed some systematic research about the off duty and general experiences of officers of color. What little research there is about police officers off duty happens to be about white police officers, and we have images in our mind, whether it's in California's Simi Valley or New York's Staten Island, of enclaves of police officers who find common cause and a common resonance with others who understand their work.
But that is often not the case for officers of color who remain living in communities which have very different approaches to police. As police agencies across the country become more diverse, the leaders of those agencies need to understand, they need to understand more about the life experiences of their officers of color, especially experiences while out of uniform.
We don't know why the off duty deaths are so much more focused among officers of color, but they clearly are. That may be about the kinds of issues we talked about. It may be because officers of color are spending their off duty hours in their own communities where there's a lot more crime. It simply could be they're encountering situations where any police officer would take police action but are also heavily policed and more likely to come in contact.
So this is not just about bias, this may just be about the presence of off duty officers in high crime neighborhoods. But we think police executives need to engage their officers of color in structured conversations about these experiences on a regular basis.
Equally important, we've urged NIJ and the COPS office to support research into this largely ignored area and to engage a broad spectrum of officers of color and fraternal organizations that represent them in dialog with police executives and with researchers about the issues. It shouldn't take, it really shouldn't take, a police-on-police shooting to shake the field into awareness about the need to respect, support, embrace officers of color as they strive to do their duty, serve their country and bring safety and justice to the communities that need them so badly. Thanks very much for your attention.
Kris Rose: Thank you Chris for that excellent presentation. And I have to say, if you read the report it goes into a lot of detail around the specific instances around the deaths of these officers. It's a fascinating report and I encourage all of you to read it. And thank you for your suggestions about the research. We have been reading that report with that in mind actually and have ideas about how we can explore some of these recommendations to work into our research program here at NIJ.
Does anyone at this time have any questions they'd like to ask Chris? Yes?
Dave Klinger: See if I can figure out how to get this mic up to my height. I'm Dave Klinger from the Police Foundation and University of Missouri St. Louis, and I was one of the scholars that allegedly knows something about this. I just want to give a real quick sketch so the audience knows something about my background.
I was a police officer in Los Angeles before I went back to grad school, had been doing a bunch of research on officer-involved shootings, was involved in a shooting myself, and I am one of the people who talked about an off duty encounter. And so I know a little bit about this stuff, and one of my concerns as I read very carefully through the report and was listening to your presentation is, I think, you might have missed the forest for the trees. And by that I mean this. By boring down on situations where officers of color got killed in the last 15 years, you're removing it from the much broader question of how do police officers get shot in any sort of encounter with anybody.
And as I read very carefully as Kristina suggested, through these case studies that you provided, I could point to situation after situation after situation where the officer who got shot made some terrible tactical blunders leading up to the final confrontation.
And, by the way, so just so you don't think that I'm trying to say anything bad about these officers, I've got two friends of mine that are buried in the ground right now because they did something foolish in an encounter and got themselves killed by a bad guy.
But at any rate, what I did is I had a research assistant at the Police Foundation just do a real quick sketch, and in the last 15 years about 200 black and Latino officers have been murdered in the line of duty, and so I think if what we do is we step back from this very narrow look at the risk factors for off duty officers of color to the broader question of officers of color getting shot to then the bigger question of how do police officers get shot, then we can start looking at it and seeing the problem as a slice of a much bigger picture, and we know that if we train officers how to handle themselves appropriately, they don't get shot, whether it's by a police officer or by a suspect.
Now there are times and places where police officers, no matter what they do, no matter how well they behave in terms of their tactical acumen, they get killed. I've got a third friend who is buried in the ground — who was murdered — and he just lost a gun battle. So my point is that I think that what we can do is we can place this in a broader context and get a much better purchase on it with questions from the sociology mistake literature, so on and so forth, tactical literature, and broaden it out and capture a broader thing. So that's my first thing. I have one other thing but I'd like to hear your response.
Stone: I agree with you and disagree I guess in a sense. I agree with you — in every one of these cases, and that's why I sort of referenced that we've got a lot of people coming to us saying, “You know, I know we've got this issue, we've got to deal with this but if he'd just dropped the gun, if he'd just done…” and that path takes us all down to basically the training and everything else is on the confronted officer. That's where the training goes. If you're worried about officers getting killed in general, most of them who are getting killed are getting killed not by police officers. And since we can't train those people, we're going to put all the emphasis on training the confronted officer.
And that's important. And it's important in these cases. I wasn't, I didn't mean to suggest that that shouldn't be done, but it's one thing to say that there are a lot of officers of color killed, it's another thing to notice that everybody's off duty. Everybody goes off duty and officers of color are not yet a majority of police in America. And so the fact that there are simply no off duty officers — white officers — getting killed in the last, since 1982 and it keeps happening, not frequently, but occasionally to officers of color at least suggested to all of us and to several of the departments we were working with that there were also in addition to all those issues, other issues going on.
For example, there are clues just about, a lot of the differences between an encounter and lots of white officers had encounters off duty. It's not as if there's no confusion. It just turns out to get resolved without death since 1982 for the white officers. Why is that? That could be because even when the white officers make a mistake, there's an extra second pause, there's an extra benefit of the doubt. The officers in their head is thinking, “You know, I don't know what I have here,” whereas with officers of color that may just be happening a little faster. They may be a little more on edge. They may think they know what they have here, and so the time lapse is different.
So I agree with you about the importance and the promise of all that tactical training. I think the reason it's only nine officers off duty killed in a big country with lots of people off duty over a multiple year period. One of the reasons is precisely as you say, because the training has gotten better, and we've improved on a lot of the things you're saying. But there is also an issue of race here and the advantage of focusing on that is it lets us think about how to protect not just the officers who are being killed, but others who are being killed mistakenly or unnecessarily in encounters.
Klinger: Thank you, and this is a broader issue that I think people need to think about in terms of this notion of this pre-employment screening for unintentional bias. One of the things that I'm always very concerned about is unintended consequences, particularly the unintended consequences of technology, and one of the things that struck me when I first heard about this research a couple of years ago is how artificial it is. And that you push one button if you decide to shoot you push another button if you decide not to shoot. So that raises huge questions in my mind about the conceptual operational correspondence.
But something that I'm really concerned about if we're going to put officers through these paces initially. If you think about it, you take an officer. He has been hired or she has been hired. They haven't gone through any use of force training and what they're told in their very first thing is, “If you see a gun I want you to shoot.” That's bad training. If we shot everybody who had a gun the streets would be littered with bodies. So we're going to have to be very, very careful with how we conduct this as we go around the country, if we want to take this national so what we don't do is we don't train officers, “See gun, shoot. See gun, shoot.” So we do it the first time, then we put them through training, then we do it a second time, then we're going to do it a third time. And what we're going to be doing is reinforcing the notion, even though you've gone through an academy that says, “All these cues you need to pay attention to,” what you're really telling me is if I see someone with a gun I need to shoot them. That's bad, and we need to be very, very careful about that.
Stone: I completely agree with you with that. And just one clarification. None of this, I think anywhere, has ever been used on pre-employment screening. This is post-employment pre-training.
Klinger: Absolutely, I understand that. So what you're saying is, “I've hired you…”
Stone: No, I agree with your point, I just want to make sure that there wasn't confusion about where it's going. Our recommendation is not that, “This is a great test. People should be using it.” Our point is, this is a direction of going in thinking about how we might, adapting it in various ways, tweaking it, might begin to use testing not even necessarily at the individual officers' level, just to begin to try and improve training, even if we never ascribe it to individual officers.
But my point is, you want more than one department fooling around with this, because in order to have the conversation that I frankly have I think raised the same concerns that you have about the test. But the point is, the more people who really get into it and start trying to use it, people will come up with those improvements and it will get better and we'll learn how this kind of testing might, and I stress might, might be useful more broadly in policing. We'll do that better. We'll have the innovations. We'll fix the problems in the testing, and we'll figure out how to use it and how not to use it if more departments are experimenting with it.
Klinger: I don't disagree but I still think we always have to be careful when we put a new technology in place, when we put new training protocols in place, that we always are concerned about unintended consequences. So I think you and I are basically on the same page, but I would be a little bit more concerned at this point than I think you are. Thank you.
Rose: Yes, Mary Lou.
Mary Lou Leary: Definitely not my height. Chris, I thought that was very interesting, particularly your point about we can't train all the potential threats out there to police officers. We can't train them not to shoot cops, but we can train our own officers and we must, so I applaud this experiment and I hope it has good results.
What I'm wondering is two things. One is, what kind of training are they doing when they discover this guy is way up, he's a 10 on unconscious racial bias. What are we going to do with him between July and December to try to reduce that? And then secondly, is there any thought, maybe it's premature, being given to how we can use this in the community to reduce unconscious racial bias that officers may have in dealing with dealing with the community?
Stone: I don't know about the second question. That probably goes to the psychologists and others who are working with the tools. But on the first question, one thing I like about this approach that the NYPD is taking is that this is not diversity training. This is not anti-racism training as they call it in the U.K. This is, the point is not that if you have unconscious racial bias you need to be trained about the importance of diversity. The hypothesis is that ordinary existing police training and experience, the disciplined thinking about when to make decisions to broaden your field, to not stereotype, that ordinary police training experience does this. And that's so much more attractive essentially for a police organization to think that if there is this bias in the country and a bias in our society, we just have to deal with that. We're recruiting from a population that has some distribution of unconscious bias — not surprising. Jesse Jackson has given speeches about how, when he hears footsteps behind him on a dark night he turns around, it's a white person, he's relieved.
These are not exceptional statements or exceptional experiences. You're recruiting for that population, and then you want them to go in and make these very fast judgments that can have life or death consequences. And the good news, at least in some of the early results, not from longitudinal studies, not like what NYPD is doing now, but just from some comparison group stuff, makes it at least appear plausible that the existing police training and experience that people are getting make them better on this, actually reduces that. And if that's true, it's not only a great, it gives a source of pride on issues of race for departments, but it also becomes a way to do work without thinking about what you have to do in the training.
But I think the point of Kelly's letter is that they're going to take the training they've got, look at the results, and begin to start trying to adjust it to see if they can get better results. But that doesn't mean introducing particular training about race necessarily.
Rose: I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Chris for coming and giving this very interesting, very thoughtful presentation about an issue that's very difficult to think about. And I appreciate all of you coming, but let's give another round of applause to Chris Stone.
Rose: And Chris, can you stay for a few minutes if folks would like to come up and speak with you afterwards? Thank you, and this concludes this session. Thank you.
Opinions or points of view expressed in these recordings represent those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. Any commercial products and manufacturers discussed in these recordings are presented for informational purposes only and do not constitute product approval or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Justice.