“Shocking & Disturbing” Police Shooting Video Released in Chicago in Context: Chicago Police Actually Kill at the National Average Despite 4x Greater Violence
Sometimes, you read a Chicago Tribune news article (“Videos of Deadly Cop Shooting Show Procedural Errors, Confusion Over Shots”) on the latest tragic police shooting in your city, watch the video, and are still feeling like “Well, is this the norm?”
If you moved past the anger, you may even consider some other questions, “Were they even remotely justified in shooting 18-year-old Paul O’Neal in the back as he ran away after nearly running over a cop in a stolen Jaguar? Are the cops corrupt or confused? What do I really know about shootings by law enforcement to tell me if this incident is indicative of greater injustice and a reckless police culture?” You know, the stuff we hear in the news and city residents all the time about the prevalence of police violence, especially here in Chicago.
I won’t answer those questions. I’ll leave that to the reformed, controversial, though hopefully more transparent police review board IPRA. But I will answer the common assumption, “These Chicago cops are out of fucking control, right?” Hell, it’s the first thing I was told when I moved here 12 years ago by my short-term Wicker Park hipster-musician housemate, who advised, “Treat the police like wild animals. Keep your distance and be careful. They will attack you.”
To be fully informed, one should look at the facts. This includes recent history beyond isolated videos. After that, certain opinions start to percolate. So let me offer a few …
Fact: Police shootings are well under 1% of total shootings in this city. And killing 4x less than the national police average, when compared against citizen homicides. I’ll get to that in a minute.
Fact: Around 70% of perpetrators of crime as described by victims and arrests in Chicago are black (Case Reports*, Arrest Rates)
Fact: Around 70% of people in contact by police are black (Contact Cards*)
Fact: Around 70% of people shot or killed by police are black (Chicago Police Accountability Task Force Report)
Question: Are the police shooting like it’s the “Wild West” in an unjustified manner? Are the police shootings showing racial bias, as several studies and articles would coercively lead you to believe?
Context: I also hesitate to add the information above, but it’s essential within the context of the pervasive assumption that there is a racial bias in police shootings. In fact, a study by a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship winner and economist from Harvard indicates no racial bias in 1,332 police shootings in Dallas, Austin, six Florida counties, Houston and Los Angeles between 2000 to 2015. The same appears true in Chicago if one looks at the known (and quite public) data and not isolated viral videos and the news. It’s curious why this info is not shared in Chicago Police Accountability Task Force reports or police shootings in the news, and I sense it’s due to fear of being accused of insensitivity or racism. And honestly, who wants to “blame the victim” given this country’s horrible legacy with racism? But I also constantly hear people say “we’re being killed” or injured by white power structures, and I do question that.
Opinion: Police are NOT held accountable historically in Chicago by a factor of five or more (i.e. 5x more police should probably be fired or reprimanded). Heck, I even said so to my conservative father on YouTube. What else can you logically conclude when there has been 400 civilian shootings by police since 2007, and only one has been found to be unjustified?
Long Opinion & Recent CPD History: The killing of O’Neal does appear to be an extremely troubling police shooting in my beloved Chicago, which no one can deny happens at times, and police should be held accountable. Yet it’s important to remember these “bad shootings” are rare and no more than 5% of the total, I believe. According to former Independent Police Review Authority (IPRA) supervisor Lorenzo Davis last year talking to The Daily Beast, “As many as 5 percent of police shootings [that Chicago’s IPRA investigates] are problematic.” Davis has been highly critical of mayor Rahm Emanuel, and I saw him draw attention on CNN last Thanksgiving to excessive force and lack of police accountability during the protests over Laquan McDonald’s 16-shot killing. Davis, a 23-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, also claims he was fired by the investigative agency for refusing to change some reports where he found cops were at fault for shooting civilians. He lost his lawsuit.
In this context, it’s commendable that Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson immediately reprimanded the officers involved in the O’Neal shooting. And IPRA released these nine videos within two weeks of the shooting, unlike McDonald’s video, which took 13 months to reach the public. Also, while the mainstream media has spread stories of the rampant racial bias in the Chicago Police Department, backed by mayor-appointed task forces, I am forced to return serve with a “wider view” to provide context to those statistics. And this makes me also wonder: Are we over-criticizing police because of mainstream AND social media hysteria?
Nationwide Statistics on Police Killings: According to year-end 2015 tallies of people killed by police in the US in The Guardian (1146, from shootings to car crashes) and The Washington Post (984, shootings only), roughly 50% were white, 25% were black, and 10% were unarmed. Hon-Hispanic Whites are 63% of the US population, and African-Americans make up a little less than 13%. Thus, a disparity. However, when factoring in police interaction—violent crimes or incarceration, for example — both demographic groups are 40% of the total, give or take a few percentage points, but twice as many white persons are killed at hands of the police. (Side note: According to The Guardian, 12 black women were killed by police and 35 white women were killed by police in 2015, a disparity in whole sums of factor of three. The male differential is a factor of two. Interesting context amid the #SayHerName campaign. The Guardian’s methodology can best be described as “the whole kitchen sink” as even a car collision counts as a police killing.)
Facts on Steroids (as of August 5, 2016): I will also point out this is only the 6th shooting death this year in Chicago by police, with an additional 8 more shooting incidents. But as of August 5, 2016, the city itself has succumbed to nearly 2500 shootings, 370 fatal (out of 410 homicides total). Shootings are up 50% in Chicago compared to last year. The ratio of citizen to police shootings is 175:1. The citizen to police death ratio is 60:1 (same as 2015, with only 9 recorded police killings vs. 500 total). Nationally in 2015, the ratio of death-by-citizen (homicides) vs. death-by-police = 15:1.
Using Statistics Above, the USA Compared to Chicago: 7% of all U.S. homicides are by law enforcement. In the black community it’s 4% of total; in the white community it’s 12% of total (see graphic at bottom of page). In Chicago, 1.5% of all homicides are by police from January 2015 to August 2016. And there’s no evidence of additional deaths by police in Chicago beyond six as of August 5, 2016. (Though, I hear the conspiracies.)
In Conclusion: By this metric, Chicago police are killing 4 TIMES LESS than the national average! Even if you tack police killings to the city of Chicago’s population of 2.7 million, the police force is killing no more and no less than the rest of the cops nationwide, despite the 4x greater homicidal violence here. But is that the impression you get from reading articles on Chicago police shootings like those in the news today? And perhaps more importantly, what does this evidence-driven information tell us about police aggression — or, quite possibly, restraint?
End of Post. Addendum Information Below.
Key Source on Chicago Violence (controversial & cop-centric, but as far as I can determine it’s comprehensive and accurate): http://heyjackass.com/
HeyJackass! stats I’ve yet to discover any inaccuracies, but open to hear any. Current stats are backed up by the Chicago Tribune (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-police-shootings-2015-met-20160101-story.html), which also noted Chicago police are shooting and killing less than previous years, and 2016 is on par with last year (Tribune says “8” deaths to HeyJackass! “9” in 2015 — but same ballpark).
And one more thing, that I’ve often wondered: Are police trained to handcuff dead or dying suspects? (Short Answer: Yes.) The reason, according to this New York Times Story in 2007: “It is meant to keep everyone — officers, civilians and the shot person himself — from further harm, in the same way a doctor might have to restrain a patient before administering medicine.”
Also, shooting into a moving vehicle — if it’s the only use of force by the offender — is against Chicago Police policy and presumably one of the major reasons why Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson immediately removed three officers from duty. Police should know that. State laws may give some justification for initial shots being fired, but even pro-police blog Second City Cop highlights the myriad of screw-ups during the encounter. Are these errors due to lack of training, experience, or a surge of adrenaline after a vehicle nearly hits you? In fact, those bullets flying could have led to much confusion that ended tragically in O’Neal’s death. But all current evidence says: Things don’t look good for these Chicago cops (especially with the police camera not being on for the final shot).
* This Below Was an Overlong, Single-Paragraph Caption for the Race & Crime Table Above
But Now It’s an Analysis of a Scrubbed Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ) Page and How the ACLU Doesn’t Consider “Controls” for Crime Rates
Contact Cards? Case Reports? And where are the spell-checkers, CPD? Or fact-checkers, anyone? OK, continue reading if you want to dive deep into this sub-topic.
When the ACLU put out their report stating Chicago police were racially biased and excessively “stopping and frisking” citizens in March 2015, the Chicago Police Department (CPD) put out this info above to stem criticisms. And it’s a strong argument. In a nut-shell, it says: Contact Cards (police stops) evenly match the Case Reports, which are reported crimes (such as calls to 911) by third parties that are most likely NOT police. Thus, no institutional racism.
I’ve often referred back to it. It was shared by higher-ups in CPD with the media to buttress accusations of profiling, but that didn’t stop the ACLU from instituting a new contact card system by August 2015 with CPD’s approval (thus, avoiding litigation). One could argue this has led to mixed results. I right-click downloaded the graphic directly from a Chicago Public Radio (WBEZ) story that no longer exists online. (The plot thickens.)
CPD may have felt a bit “rushed” by the bad publicity in Spring 2015, because they misspelled “Latino” as “Lation.” I can imagine the “Oh, for Chrissake, the ACLU is railroading us — export this spreadsheet and send to WBEZ pronto.” Or — just as likely — some stressed WBEZ News intern crunched official Chicago Police Department numbers and didn’t spell-check it. But why is it deleted? Hair-brained conspiracies are easy, so I’ll avoid speculating (for now) reasons WBEZ editorial may have in avoiding any defense of Chicago policing when six months later the Laquan McDonald case became known. And sensitivity on matters of race certainly prevail on public broadcasting. Anyway, similar data-driven evidence has been featured by Chicago’s WBEZ in 2013 (that page is still up), where you can see case reports match the contact rates, a key linchpin to any argument that no racial bias is taking place systematically by Chicago police, I’d argue. However, like many stories, they tend not to focus on that aspect of the data — they mostly just question the reliability of the data, which is a fair thing to ask. Police, like any profession, do have their share of ass-covering liars. Police may not always document. Police can be racist. Police are human. But if pervasive, wouldn’t that cause a spike in these numbers to the point that “contact cards” exceed case reports and arrest rates by 5-10% or higher for African Americans? Wouldn’t shootings by police be higher, as they’re nearly impossible to hide? These questions are rarely asked in what often appears to be the pursuit of a racism narrative in journalism.
Also, there is evidence the “scrubbed” WBEZ website page did once exist, as it’s mentioned on the March 2015 archived stream by a reporter as she’s asked about ACLU’s approach and context for police “stops” in her reporting. It’s available only on WBEZ’s Sound Cloud page (go to 4:45 mark). Believe me, I’ve Googled endlessly to find evidence of those CPD-released numbers above mentioned elsewhere in the media, to no avail. This is about it. Here’s what WBEZ’s Katie O’Brien said: “I have some doubts that the ACLU [ran all the corrections for stops, i.e. controls]. I did hear from Martin Mulroney of CPD, who says racial profiling is strictly prohibited, but as far as the CONTACT CARD numbers and demographics, he said they closely mirror what’s called their CASE REPORTS. Like when someone calls in and they say ‘Someone is stealing a car, they look like this.’ That profile goes into a CASE REPORT. You can see on WBEZ.org [again, not anymore] that they’re very close to the percentages found in the CONTACT CARD.”
I’m not a conspiracy theorist. And I’m on the polar end of being an alt-right wingnut. But I do wonder why this sole evidence — which I copied and preserved 18 months ago — that was provided by police to WBEZ News, and possibly other outlets, is nowhere to be found on current WBEZ web pages or anywhere in my searches. I know they updated their website, but other pages transferred (such as that 2013 link). Could it be the same reason why crime statistics are rarely mentioned in same breath as disproportionate use of force or shootings by police in #BlackLivesMatter stories? (Cough, political correctness. Thanks, Ben Carson! Hated you as a candidate; but you did make a nuanced point here.)
Bonus Point on “Are the Police Treating Different Races Differently?” (Update: Below has been greatly expanded into its own post here, focusing on Roland Fryer’s use-of-force data.)
I penned another Medium piece last month, and I continue to ask people to convey my methodological “missteps” with my “next step” critiques of recent studies that “prove” police are abusing their authority, and doing it at a much greater rate for African Americans. Which simply is not true. I wrote, “21 out 22 times things ‘go well’ in police interactions with no ‘use of force’ for blacks, and 27 out of 28 times it’s the same results for whites.”
That data is derived from recent a report profiled prominently in the The New York Times and other mainstream media outlets (“Study Supports Suspicion That Police Are More Likely to Use Force on Blacks”). It poorly jumbles the report’s findings and deceitfully suggests the use-of-force rate is 3.5 times greater for black people compared to white people, but really it’s around 1.2 times greater (20% more) when including their non-transparent controls in the Center for Policing Equity report. (Why studies can’t make their arguments coherently, or present ‘controls’ clearly, I’ll never know.) Though I’m a Times subscriber, I am befuddled when they uncritically look at police reform reports indicating clear “racial bias” that show nothing of the sort. Or if it is, it’s negligible. You just have to break it down one more time. That’s the “next step.”
The New York Times states the following directly from the Center for Policing Equity report, “For those who were arrested, the mean rate of use of force against blacks was 46 for every 1,000 arrests, compared with 36 per 1,000 for whites.” You can also accurately say the use of force rate is roughly 20% higher. I use the same numbers, but with a more relevant context (“next step” in bold): Use of force is not used 954 times out of 1000 arrests for black Americans and 964 out of 1000 arrests for white Americans. So use of force is applied 4.6% of the time for every black person arrested and 3.6% of the time for every white person arrested. (21 out of 22 times for blacks, 26 out of 27 times for whites.) Thus, about 95% of the time, no matter your race, police in the United States won’t be harsh with you. Again, this is according to a study implying police do get rough and are doing so unequally based on the complexion of your skin.
This report is like so many others before it that scream “police are pervasively racially biased and violent” and yet when I crunch their numbers, I see nothing of the sort.
This month, another study by a celebrated academic tackled disparities in use of force by police, with results similar to The Center for Policing Equity. Both claim that all-things-being-equal (applying crime data), the use-of-force rate is also 20% higher for blacks than whites (a rate of 1.2; without controls, it’s around 3.5). But on the streets, “20% higher” translates to about the SAME percentage of encounters, give-or-take 1% (look at the orange column on the graphics below). That’s the “next step.” That’s reality.
He also found in the data that police shoot blacks less often than whites in similar. circumstances, but I won’t get into that here.
For the Harvard study by Dr. Roland Fryer, a celebrated black economist interested in racial disparities, scan below for the period 2003–13 “stop-and-frisk” era of New York City. Then note my additional numbers in the right columns and the percentages I break down in the paragraphs under the new graphics. This is during the time the zero-tolerance “broken windows” theory style of policing was applied by Mayor Rudoph Giulani and Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly — a highly criticized period for “racist policing” and excessive use of force in modern history. Even though approval for “broken windows” policing is desired by a majority of white, black and Hispanic NYC residents according to July 2015 polls, and crime rates have gone down precipitously since the 1990s.
To be a broken record, as I wrote at the very bottom of my last Medium post: “And is the mistreatment by ‘NYC Cops’ so extreme in general if your chance of getting handcuffed [per stop] is 3%, whether you’re complexion is black or white?”
3% of the time you’re handcuffed. It don’t matter if you’re black or white. How did I get this? Again, divide 310 / 10,000 and 266 / 10,000 (i.e. 1 in 32 for blacks, 1 in 37 for whites), and you get 3.1% (blacks) and 2.7% (whites). This is the “next step” I’m doing with Fryer’s Harvard data. Do the simple math on any interaction with New York police (see graphic above) during the controversial “stop-and-frisk” decade and you get nearly the same percentage for black and white citizens:
- 1 out of every 64 blacks stopped will have a weapon DRAWN on them
(1.5 % of encounters)
- 1 out of every 77 whites stopped will have a weapon DRAWN on them
(1.2 % of encounters)
- 1 out of every 185 blacks stopped will have a weapon POINTED at them
(.5% of encounters)
- 1 out of every 232 whites stopped will have a weapon POINTED at them
(.4% of encounters)
I’m just wondering: Why this context is being wiped off media and academic reports, or not being published in the first place?
Side Note: The ‘NYC Cops’ link is my ode to The Strokes, who wiped that song off their US-release after 9/11 out of respect to first responders — surely to avoid unnecessarily bad publicity for their remarkable debut album. But they also claimed to be moved by the “valiant response” by the NYPD during the attacks in New York City.
Side Note 2: I urge people to keep these numbers above in context when reading sensationalist writers at Salon who quake when their narrative is questioned and who clearly don’t know what they’re talking about. Their click-bait headlines (“Sorry conservatives, new research from Harvard shows a profound amount of racism by police…not less of it”) and editorial policies of serving “echo chamber” drivel aren’t helping the American populace in making informed decisions.
Side Note 3: And regarding shootings, there’s arguably a slight overlap in data and conclusions released in 2016 by a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship winner and renowned economist from Harvard (Rolan Fryer) and by a numbers guy getting a graduate degree in Colorado (Cody Ross). Though some prefer the Ross’ “Multi-Level Bayesian Analysis” over Fryer’s credentials and his team’s 3000 hours of data-analyzing and clarity of presentation. I lean towards the latter. But I’m open to hearing the differences, flaws with either analysis, errors in my conclusions, and frankly, a simplified breakdown of all their work, such as when Ross babbles Bayesian mumbo jumbo:
The probability parameter vector θ[c] ∈ (0,1)D is transformed to a parameter vector on the unconstrained scale Θ[c] ∈ ℝD using an inverse logit transformation:
(8)Then, vectors unique to each county c, are estimated from a higher-level distribution in a multi-level Bayesian framework
And so on.
Bonus Graphic: Perspective.
I thought I would whip up a visual tonight that I’ve been thinking about since I rode a bus down from North Side Chicago to the South Side shortly after the 4th of July. No, I’m not stealing this from some conservative news source or Tweeted racist “race war” lies from Donald Trump. This isn’t a “what about black-on-black crime?” argument stopper (usually responded by argument stoppers “what about white-on-white crime?” or the rhetorical favorite “Wall Street Crooks!”).
Personally, I would like to eschew ideological warfare. And focus on the facts.
This is just basic math, and important in the context of Black Lives Matter’s August 2 platform, which has some good ideas, but still continues a dubious premise asking to “END THE WAR ON BLACK PEOPLE.” Then there’s “The Talk,” Hillary Clinton at the NAACP, etc. Most of the rhetoric focuses on “police violence against black people” simply for “being black” as a problem, even though there’s growing evidence (or catching up to common sense, once one dissects basic numbers) that there’s no racial bias in police shootings. And really, when you leave your house: Should you worry about a rogue and/or poorly trained police officer, or someone else?