(KMOV.com) – Police records show African Americans are more likely than whites to be shot by local police, but once officers fire their weapons at suspects, whites are more likely to be killed.
The protests in Ferguson have become a broad campaign against injustice, largely built around the perceived heavy handed tactics police use in poor, African American communities that have higher arrest rates and many more police shootings.
“Those neighborhoods in St. Louis that have the highest levels of violence are the ones that have the highest level of police shootings,” said UMSL professor and former police officer David Klinger.
Klinger provided News 4 with a map that showed more than 200 police shootings in St. Louis City from 2002 through 2012. Most of those shootings occurred in higher crime, low-income, neighborhoods, most of which were predominantly African American neighborhoods in north St. Louis. There was also a significant percentage of police shootings in higher crimes areas in south St. Louis.
News 4 also obtained records for shootings by St. Louis County police for the last 10 years and found a similar pattern. More police shootings occurred in north St. Louis County than other areas. St. Louis County officers shot four times as many African Americans than whites, even though African Americans make up only 25 percent of St. Louis County’s population.
“It’s because blacks are unfortunately disproportionately involved in violent crime and police use of deadly force is tightly intermixed with deadly force in the community,” Klinger said.
Klinger said the statistics also reveal police are more likely to miss African Americans and more likely to kill whites once they open fire. Since January, 2004 St. Louis County officers have shot at 37 African American suspects, seven of those were killed. In that same time period, county officers shot at 10 whites, six of whom were killed. Statistics from St. Louis County Police show officers miss their target roughly half the time, Klinger believes that is because many police shootings happen at night and while officers are moving.
In recent years, researchers have found that while some officers profile based on race during traffic stops and searches, they do not show racial bias when they open fire.
One study that tested reactions of officers in a lab found “officers generally do not show a biased pattern of shooting.” Another more in-depth study found “participants took longer to shoot black suspects than white or Hispanic suspects, and were more likely to fail to shoot armed black suspects than armed white or Hispanic suspects.”
Klinger said some police shootings can be avoided by giving suspects more distance and by being less confrontational.
“There are bad shootings, there’s no doubt about that,” Klinger said. “I’ve been involved in federal civil rights lawsuits and have testified against police officers and their agencies when they do wrong.”