Full story here

David Shuey
26 min readAug 17, 2018


* Spoiler, there’s negligible or no racial disparities when controlling for arrests and criminal behavior & Chicago police are pretty much “average” in terms of deploying use of force

NOTES: All sources with links are at the TOP and BOTTOM sections of this post. In the middle are a pair of write-ups. The first is a critique of the Center for Policing Equity and the second is some rarely shown context for the War on Drugs & incarceration.



The Center for Policing Equity statistic used in this analysis: Use of force occurs in 36 out of 1000 arrests for whites and 46 out of 1000 arrest for blacks.

This Center for Policing Equity data represents 12 municipalities representing a large urban county in California and 11 cities spanning the nation with populations that range from less than 100,000 to several million.

I have some critiques of the Center for Policing Equity, which I highlight in a section below. Regardless, I use the data as my benchmark to compare Chicago’s use of force results.

UPDATE (mysteriously deleted off the CPE website Apr 2019):

I use and trust this data for my comparisons with Chicago’s use of force rate. See how I don’t wholly trust the source’s conclusions in the section below the next chart.

CALCULATING CHICAGO USE OF FORCE RATES (Data otherwise unavailable, so I use the following sources)

January 2017 161-page DOJ Report on Chicago Police Department used use-of-force data to paint a picture of police abuse (the report includes ZERO data for arrests or demographics of criminal perpetrators, a.k.a. “case reports”): “For example, of all use-of-force incidents for which race was recorded between January 2011 and April 18, 2016, black individuals were subject to approximately 76% (19,374) of the uses of force, as compared to whites, who represented only 8% (2,007) of the force incidents. In some categories of force, blacks were even more overrepresented: black individuals were the subject of 80% of all CPD firearm uses and 81% of all Taser contact-stun uses during that time period.”

April 2016 Police Accountability Task Force Executive Summary (created by Mayor Rahm Emanuel) stated that 74% of police shootings between 2008–2015 were black and 8% were white (report also includes ZERO data for arrests or demographics of criminal perpetrators, a.k.a. “case reports”). Also, it’s odd that there’s a 6% difference between DOJ Report and the Executive Summary in shootings with black victims (74% compared to 80%) despite years that mostly overlap (2008–2010 left out of DOJ Report).

Chicago Demographics: 32% White / 31% Black / 29% Hispanic/Latino / 5 % Asian / 2.7% 2 or more races.

CPD 2009 Annual Report (see arrest data, page 44, “Exhibit 12c, Arrests by Offense Classification, Race, and Gender, 2010): 72% of arrests are black and 9% of arrests are white.

CPD 2010 Annual Report (see arrest data, page 35, “Exhibit 12b, Arrests by Offense Classification, Race, and Gender, 2010”): 72% of arrests are black and 9% of arrests are white.

According to CPD arrest data collected by The Chicago Sun Times, the average arrests in Chicago 2011–16 is 128,233. “They show that Chicago Police officers made 167,355 arrests in 2010; 152,740 in 2011; 145,390 in 2012; 143,618 in 2013; 129,166 in 2014; 112,996 in 2015, and 85,493 last year.” (Arrest data controlled for accuracy by comparing 2010 arrest numbers below with 2010 CPD Annual Report, and they only differed by 186 total arrest.)

Contact Cards: 72% of all stops are black.

Case Reports: 73% of crime reports are of black suspects, matching stop, arrest and use-of- force data (key linchpin against the argument that CPD racially profiles suspects).

Additional CPD Evidence on Case Reports: (2013: “CPD’s Collins also said that for the first six months of this year, the racial demographics of the contact cards strongly resembles the ratio of suspect demographics of those in crime incident reports.”).

CALCULATIONS ON GOOGLE SPREADSHEETS (Please feel free to comment or highlight errors)

I also crunch the numbers the bottom of my original post, under the title: “How to Do the Math on Use of Force for Whites and Black Chicagoans (And How You Can Trust the Data).”

Spreadsheet 1: “Data Analysis of Use of Force Against Blacks in DOJ Report on Chicago Police + Arrest Data”

Tab 1: Chicago Use of Force Data. Calculation of the following use-of-force rates: 3.3 per 100 arrests (whites in Chicago) and 4.0 per 100 arrests (blacks in Chicago). From my spreadsheet “Data Analysis of Use of Force Against Blacks in DOJ Report on Chicago Police + Arrest Data”:

Tab 2: Rate of Lethal Force — Chicago vs. Nationally. (From article: “Citizens of Chicago were not any more likely to be killed per arrest from 2009–2016 compared to American citizens on average the last couple years.”):

Tab 3: Arrest Rates in Chicago vs. Nationally. (From article: “Another fact I discovered — and was not reported — looking at easy-to-find data: In 2016, the arrest rate in Chicago was lower per capita than the national rate by 12%.”):

Tab 4: Chicago Arrest & Crime Data. Ratio of black-white difference for each crime category arrest: Murder (27 times), Robbery (24 times), Sexual Assault (12 times), Aggravated Assault (10 times):

Spreadsheet 2: “USA Police Killings Rate, Violent Crime Arrests, Drug Arrests = Stats that Matter”

Tab 1: Police Killings per Arrest in the USA. (Blacks in 2017 were killed in approximately 1 in 11,900 arrests. From article: “The odds of being shot and killed per arrest for whites & Latinos in 2017 were nearly 10% higher than African Americans: 1 in 10,940”):

Tab 2: Demographics of Violent Arrests, Non-violent Arrests & Drug Arrests. Likely factor for the small racial difference in use of force rates: Blacks are more often arrested for violent crime than whites, and far less likely to be arrested for non-violent crime. 4.1% of all arrests for whites are in 4 major violent crime categories based on 2015 FBI statistics; and for blacks it was 6.7%. The black-white percentage difference for these types of arrests is 48%. Additionally, 33% of all arrests for whites and 22% of arrests for blacks are in 4 major non-violent crime categories (drug abuse violations, driving under the influence, liquor laws, drunkenness), a black-white percentage difference of 38.5%. Coincidentally, drug arrests as a percentage of overall arrests within the FBI racial breakdowns are almost exactly the same for black and white Americans, at 13.98% and 13.97%, respectively:

Tab 3: How Many More Murders Since Ferguson vs. Police. (From article: “The Death Count: During this same period, homicides jumped more than 20% nationally (from 2014 to 2016), an increase of 3000 deaths. As many as 500 additional citizens have been killed in Chicago since 2015.”):

Also on Spreadsheet 2: “Full Analysis on Guardian and Washington Post data”

213 unarmed people were killed 2015–2017 according to The Washington Post’s database on police shootings. This is 7% of the total fatal killings by police. Those 213 deaths are broken down as follows:

  • Black men are 34% of unarmed shooting deaths 2015–2017
  • Black women are 1.9% of all unarmed shooting deaths 2015–2017
  • White men are 35% of unarmed shooting deaths 2015–2017
  • White women are 4% of unarmed shooting deaths 2015–2017
  • Hispanic men are 19% of unarmed shooting deaths 2015–2017
  • Hispanic women are .5% of unarmed shooting deaths 2015–2017
  • Asian/Native/Other men (and no women) are 4% of unarmed shootings deaths 2015–2017

My Full Analysis of the DOJ Report first published April 2017 where I first used this data. It has slowly expanded to more than 35,000 words with additional evidence, studies, media articles, context, and more. This includes a collection of 7 studies indicating there’s no greater use of force used against blacks than whites by police:

“USA” in my chart is Center for Policing Equity data.

Caveat for Center for Policing Equity Data: A Data-driven Critique of a Very Well-Endowed Nonprofit

(Skip to bottom if just want to see rest of the SOURCES)

For the “USA” part of this chart, I use Center for Policing Equity data for my comparisons, and don’t largely question it. I only question how incredibly misleading they are in presenting it (see my Summer 2016 essay) and others — especially the media, specifically The New York Times — in interpreting it. There are clear contradictions about what certain data they present really means.

So much was written about the Center for Policing Equity 2016 study saying it’s proof of police racial bias because of this “statistically significant” 24% difference between 3.6% (white) and 4.6% (black), the percentages of use of force per arrest. What few acknowledge is that suspects don’t always go politely to jail (“Here are my wrists for the handcuffs, officer”), and no use of force occurring in 95–96% of arrests may actually be pretty good. It’s not like it’s 1 in 10 black arrests, and 1 in 30 white arrests —such a disparity would definitely indicate racism.

Still, I concede implicit bias could play a part in this small, yet statistically significant, 24% difference. But I also want to spend a few minutes focusing on the other factors that likely make up the bulk of that difference.

Media Representation & “What Is Excessive Force?”

No standard was set for what constitutes “excessive use of force” among this data. It happens for sure. Just last week, a black Baltimore policeman just beat the hell out of a black man, which was caught caught on tape leading to the officer’s suspension and arrest (and yes, it also happens to white people). But we have no data about how often “excessive” force occurs, defined subjectively as actions “beyond what’s necessary to arrest a suspect and keep police and bystanders safe.” What we get instead from the Center for Policing Equity (CPE) is just a series of tables and charts showing blacks were sometimes a little bit more likely to be on the receiving end of force per arrest. Even when other countries report use of force, the media sensationally focuses on bulk sum racial disparities and not rates per interaction. For all we know, many countries in Europe have police that use force 5% of the time for white Europeans and 8% for non-whites, even though they use lethal force sparingly — and that’s because they don’t have a massive gun violence problem like the U.S. If these were the disparities in in other countries, that would make the U.S. police “better,” right?

Homicide rates increased 25% for African Americans in the past few years. Do we really want to see an increase to 1990s levels? Source: The Economist.

What is true: Gun homicides are 8 times lower in Canada, 20 times lower in France, 77 times lower in UK, and virtually nonexistent in Japan compared to the United States. 64 police were shot and killed in the line of duty in 2016. The United States is its own beast. In fact, during one 10-day stretch in July of this year three police officers were killed with their own service weapons by an “unarmed suspects.” This would be a compelling story and narrative. Alas, there hasn’t been a single story in the media. Only Fox News keeps a running tally of police officers killed in the line of duty. The fact that data like this is not often reported by MSNBC, CNN or NPR — to name a few — is a detriment to us having an informed citizenry.

Bottom line: There’s nothing to compare use of force rates to and the Center for Policing Equity doesn’t try. They merely crunch the numbers and work with the media to focus on that “3.6 times higher” totals of blacks receiving force compared to whites. These sentiments get repeated in other media outlets, like when Vanity Fair quotes The New York Times to say police use-of-force against blacks is “far more likely than whites” even when “disparities in crime are taken into account.”

I imagine some see 4.6 out of 100 arrests for blacks involving force and say most if not all were “excessive” and unnecessary. While in real life, it could very well be that around 5% of the time police needed to “use force” to make that arrest for blacks, and 4% of the time for whites. It is possible — even likely — that a small fraction of that 4–5% grouping are “unjustified,” but that number is not quantified. Again, you’re not asking your kid to go to Disneyland. You’re asking an adult, most likely with past contacts with the criminal justice system, to go to jail.

Often, their data was presented in bulk sums that looked like this:

Looks bad without context, right? If I replaced “arrest rates” with “mean use force rates” the bars would be nearly the same.

The New York Times story in July 2016 that relayed to the world the Center for Policing Equity report provided this dubious headline: “Study Supports Suspicion That Police Are More Likely to Use Force on Blacks.” They also wrote the following:

“African-Americans are far more likely than whites and other groups to be the victims of use of force by the police, even when racial disparities in crime are taken into account

The study found that the overall mean use-of-force rate for all black residents was 273 per 100,000, which is 3.6 times higher than the rate for white residents (76 per 100,000) and 2.5 times higher than the overall rate of 108 per 100,000 for all residents…” [bold emphasis mine]

From the FBI 2016 “Violent Crime” page.

Only a little further down did they show the rate of 36 out of 1000 vs. 46 out of 1000. And that’s when I thought, “Well, that’s not that often, or even that huge of a disparity, is it? And ‘far more likely’ seems like a huge journalistic stretch if ‘disparities in crime are taken into account,’ as they say. Am I being hoodwinked?”

Maybe. It’s worth asking, at the very least.

Indeed, I felt strongly enough two years ago that some misrepresentation was taking place to write a relatively harsh response on Medium. Coming back to this report time after time, I keep finding more glaring problems.

Factors That Could Explain Difference of 3.6 vs. 4.6 out of 100 Arrests

We have to start with this fact: The Center for Policing Equity in Table 4 (Use of Force Rates per 1,000 Arrests, see Figure 2 below) is merely dividing all use of force incidents by all arrests, just as I did for Chicago. Like I said, I use it for my comparisons. But not all arrests are the same. Some racial group populations, just like gender, cultural and geographic populations, behave different than others. See this spreadsheet where I ran the following calculations nationwide based on 2015 FBI statistics:

  • For example, exactly 14% of both black and white arrests are for drugs (within a 100th of a decimal point, I calculated, 13.97% vs. 13.98%). This is an anomaly. Next year it could be 14% and 13%. But these don’t change much year-to-year.
  • 33% of white arrests and 22% of black arrests are in these 4 non-violent categories: Drug abuse violations, diving under the influence, liquor laws and drunkenness. These arrests are less likely to involve force. There’s a vast difference between the black and white percentages.
  • 1 out of 15 black arrests (6.7%) are for “violent crimes” in 4 categories, as defined by the FBI (rape, aggravated assault, murder or robbery), compared to 1 in 24 arrests (4.1%) for whites. The black-white percentage difference for violent arrests is 48%.
Despite the fact much the media, including the New York Times, represents the Center for Policing Equity 2016 study as proof of police racism because of this “statistically significant” 24% difference between 3.6% and 4.6%, I believe there’s another interpretation. The truest context would factor in violent arrests — blacks are much more likely to be arrested under the umbrella of “violent crime” — which along with the fact police are more often injured by non-white suspects could possibly erase the disparity. My strongest views on how this study’s public unveiling is misleading are here in my July 2016 essay written the week five Dallas police were killed in sniper fire in a “black separatist” act of terrorism as the country was engulfed in Black Lives Matter rhetoric. I may have been a little passionate, to put it lightly, in my viewpoint.

The Center for Policing Equity even admits this on P. 17: “Table 5 shows that benchmarking to violent Part I arrests reverses the direction of the Black-White gap.”

Reverses. The direction. Of the black-white gap.

Also, read between those lines situated right below Table 5, and ask: Are they there purposely to obfuscate their results? The report says, “Contrary to the dominant narrative, these analyses reveal that racial disparities persist even when benchmarking on all arrests. Although these disparities dissipate (and even reverse) when controlling for violent Part I arrests, it is noteworthy that 5 of the 12 participating departments (42%) still evidence disproportionate targeting of Black residents when violent arrests are controlled.” So does that mean 7 out of 12 departments (58%) show a disproportionate targeting of whites? Yes, that would seem the case.

I read that line as saying a little more than half the departments were slightly unfair to whites, and a little less than half were slightly unfair to blacks. But it’s spuriously written in such a way to make the reader think there’s a bias against black residents.

The report did add this caveat and key study about differing behaviors between racial groups: “There is some suggestive evidence that there are racial disparities in resistance based on research by Smith and colleagues for the National Institute of Justice. They find that the rate of officer injury is lower when arresting a White suspect than a suspect of another racial group (Smith et al., 2009).”

So I looked into that. The following is from criminologist Michael R. Smith, Director of the Center for Law and Human Behavior University of Texas at El Paso, and his colleagues’ analysis that was mentioned by the Center for Policing Equity (A Multi-Method Evaluation of Police Use of Force Outcomes: Final Report to the National Institute of Justice): “The results from model 1 also indicate that the odds of officer injury are slightly lower if the suspect was white compared to another racial group (OR=0.87; 95% CI= 0.80–0.95).” Thus, there’s an important cultural factor: Whites don’t resist or injure police as often per arrest. Therefore, they may have a taser used on them slightly less. The 2010 report also stated clearly, “Non-white suspects were less likely to be injured than white suspects.”

If you’re looking for why there’s a black-white gap, this likely explains a significant percentage of it — and the Center for Policing Equity even dares to mention it in passing.

Go to page 19 and look closely.

The Center for Policing Equity then deny they had enough evidence to prove police shootings aren’t racially biased, even though their own charts and language indicate it does (see red circle I added in Figure 2 around the word “Lethal”). They wrote on P. 20: “The mean use of force rate for Black citizens was higher than that for White citizens in all categories, save the use of lethal force, when controlling for arrests for all offenses.” So I’m seeing at least two categories where force favors black Americans over white Americans. Yet the Co-founder and President of The Center for Policing Equity, psychologist and researcher Phillip Atiba Goff, told The New York Times, “The data really makes it difficult to say that crime is the primary driver of this. In every single category, the anti-black disparity persists.”

How is that true, Dr. Goff? Your own data says there are TWO categories where the anti-black disparity does not persist: Lethal shootings and during violent arrests.

Dr. Roland Fryer, Harvard Economist and MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship winner.

Dr. Roland Fryer, agrees with this perspective, and tends to “throw some shade” to his fellow African American researcher when stating clearly Dr. Goff “reported” lethal shootings were not racially biased, just as Fryer famously claimed in 2016 to much blow-back. He also did the same towards Vice Magazine, The Guardian, Cody Ross (the ideologically-driven social scientist counter-point to Fryer), The Washington Post and others as he juicily said their “descriptive statistics, while poignant, do not prove racial bias.” He also added, “I conclude that the ‘evidence for bias’ in some studies and not others is mainly a result of misspecified regression equations, not inherent differences in the datasets.”

In a nice way, he’s saying they’re full of it, as I’m sure he’s doing so below. It’s likely Fryer — a Harvard Economist and MacArthur “genius grant” winner — asked for the “public use” of Center for Policing Equity data, either before or after Dr. Goff critiqued Fryer in interviews (just as I searched vigorously to see how CPE constructed their tables and findings, to no avail). Thus, Fryer added this footnote:

Goff, et al. (2016) reports similar findings on the application of lethal force, but their data is not available for public use and thus cannot be included in this review.

Maybe he has a reason to hide this data?

Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff, Franklin A. Thomas Professor in Policing Equity at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

In Conclusion: Is it about Justice or is it about Money?

People tend to look at Dr. Goff’s 24% white-gap and nod their heads and go, “Aha, racial bias.” But when you have the likes of Dr. Fryer’s 27.8% black-white gap favoring blacks in lethal shootings — with a vastly more complicated set of controls for his data (check out the fancy math on page 2) — you have every critic with a stake in the “racism” narrative to try and undermine you. Exhibit A: Dr. Goff. In a USA Today article critiquing Dr. Fryer, Dr. Goff says his paper was conducted “casually” and snidely mentions, “If you haven’t read all of the literature and don’t understand what you’re looking at, you end up in a position that doesn’t look good.”

But what if your own addition to the literature overtly leaves conclusions out? This is what I believe Goff and the Center for Policing Equity did, and it doesn’t “look good.”

The more I look into The Center for Policing Equity, the more I believe they’re blatantly ignoring — or bending — their own data to make today’s police look as bad as possible. And the media blindly falls for it. The Table 5 chart clearly shows use of force outcomes favoring blacks more than whites. Lethal force “looks” clearly worse for whites. Without controlling for violent arrests and factors like non-compliance, the results “look” worse for blacks.

Either way, all racial groups are treated the same within about 20% of each other. This could be partially due to bias, but it’s not a huge amount. I’ve been saying this for more than two years.

The New York Times even reported the following, “The researchers said they did not gather enough data specifically related to police shootings to draw conclusions on whether there were racial disparities when it came to the fatal confrontations between officers and civilians so in the news.”

There may be a reason for them saying that.

Perhaps the Center for Policing Equity simply didn’t want to make that claim because it’s counter to their ideology and non-profit model. They employ almost two dozen staff and just received a $5 million grant from Google who claim it matches their own agenda: “Since 2015, has committed more than $5 million to nonprofits advancing racial justice” and added, “Today, we’re doubling our commitment to include $11.5 million in new grants to racial justice innovators across the country working to reform our criminal justice system.”

[2020 update: See $5 million figure here and here as I noticed the previous links may have scrubbed that information when I double-checked. Or it’s possible the “ $5 million to nonprofits advancing racial justice” quote is from the associated 24-minute video clip — I’m just too lazy/busy to review again. After the George Floyd protests YouTube, which is owned by Google, gave another $1 million to the Center for Policing Equity. Obviously, the information from this post isn’t exactly mainstream, tech giants are as “woke” as ever, and the media continues to ignore non-black outcomes with police where 2 out of 3 people killed unarmed are NOT black.]

Simply put, the Center for Policing Equity essentially exists because there’s apparently so much rampant police misconduct and racial bias exists — and they proved it! You can’t go out to “fix” a problem unless you can sell that there’s a problem in the first place.

Their confirmation bias serves a high stakes purpose, make no mistake.

There’s some police misconduct, obviously, but I argue it’s not significant in terms of force in any widespread way. I think far too many researchers like Dr. Goff oversold what they found. And it’s largely working within the U.S. population. Polls show many Americans and particularly African Americans buy into the idea that police are seriously abusing black and brown bodies on a regular basis. Conversely, a 2015 Gallup poll also show that more blacks than whites want additional police in their neighborhoods, 38% to 18%, and overall 9 in 10 African Americans wanted the same or more police on their streets. When’s the last time you heard that blacks actually want cops in their neighborhoods in a story related to Black Lives Matter? What you hear instead is the opposite — don’t call 911. I find that ludicrous and dangerous.

Overall, the facts speak for themselves. There should be no doubt that the Center for Policing Equity are a left-leaning group of academics and researchers bountifully underwritten by, Schott, COPS (U.S. Department of Justice), National Science Foundation, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, MacArthur Foundation (with a $6.3 billion endowment), and others. On CPE’s website, they state they’re committed to “using evidence-based approaches to [sic] social justice.” A quick glance of their Facebook page and Twitter feed clearly show a social justice and anti-racism focus. For researchers and the media, highlighting racism serves many functions — beyond attention and money (from internet clicks to grants), it provides a moral underpinning and greater sense of self-worth. Thus we end up with The New York Times reporting the Center for Policing Equity’s data as dramatically as possible, while quoting a social justice activist for good measure in their article:

“It’s kind of like, ‘Is water wet?’” said Aislinn Sol, organizer of the Chicago chapter of Black Lives Matter. “But what we gain with each study, each new piece of information is that we are able to win people over who are on the fence. The evidence is becoming overwhelming and incontrovertible that it is a systemic problem, rather than an isolated one.”

Or maybe not at all. That’s where I stand. I obviously have a problem with how misleading this the Center for Policing Equity is in the midst of an 3000-person murder increase since 2014 that’s not going down significantly.

One of my two most direct critiques of the not-for-profit (but well-endowed) organization and their leadership under Phillip Atiba Goff can be found here on Medium under the subhead: “Houston, We Don’t Have a Problem; Ideologues Do.”

Something in the red circle isn’t like the other columns. Look closely. That light grey bar is slightly higher.
From this government data put together by the Pew Research Center, I calculated increases of 2.6–3.4 times for white males, black males, black females and Hispanic males from 1960 to 2010. White women increased their share of the prison population by 8 times! People like to talk about the “War on Drugs” that disproportionately affects “people of color.” Actually, it could be argued it most disproportionately impacted white women, and all others the same. (Source: Pew Research Center using U.S. Department of Justice data.)

The War on Drugs & Incarceration

Let’s talk drugs for a minute. First, I’m against the so-called war on them. Making them illegal creates incentives for increased organized and street crime. One could make an argument that’s it’s the one government policy that treads closely to being flat-out racist. Though, there are many arguments against the idea that structural bigotry is more profound than law-breaking behavior in shaping criminal justice outcomes. One example is the fact as many meth dealers (majority white, 2% black) get mandatory minimums each year as crack dealers (majority black). Plus, we got fair sentencing guidelines in place in 2014 thanks to President Obama and Congress. Even with these Obama changes, you can be still caught on the street with 10 times less street value of rock Crack vs. powder Cocaine and get the same sentence. It used to be more than 50 times less.

Only 1 in 5 prisoners are serving time for drugs. How many know about that under the constant drumbeat message that “War on Drugs” is targeting too many black folks and the reason for our incarceration problem? People may be correct in thinking it’s the most problematic area of criminal justice because evidence exists that blacks and whites use drugs at close to the same rates, but blacks are 3–4 times more likely to be arrested and 5–7 times more likely to be imprisoned than whites.

However, “unambiguously low-level” drug offenders are less than 5% of people in prisons (Criminology & Public Policy), which even Ta-Nehisi Coates admitted using the same source, buried at the end of his 18,000 word Atlantic essay on mass incarceration (which I bought and read on the train from Chicago to Detroit).

You’ll rarely if ever read a story decrying the disparities in arrests for “drugs” that also mentions that 9 out of 10 gang members are not white. Gangs are obviously fueled by black market drug sales and distribution. And gangs are without question among the most significant factors behind cities like Chicago having 400–600% higher murder rates than the national average.

An accurate graph of what people are in jail for, and how many. Approximately 50% of federal prisoners are there for drugs. But in state prisons, which make up the majority of people incarcerated, only 15% are there for drug convictions. Overall, they make up about 1 in 5 sentenced prisoners.

But because of effective reform campaigns with creative talents like Jay-Z, Alicia Keys and John Legend behind them, many people conclude it’s the War on Drugs dragging people into the criminal justice system. It’s part of the equation, but I argue it’s fanatically over-emphasized. I’ve heard directly from two people who work in criminal justice — one was an African American woman bailiff in a Chicago court, the other a Chicago cop — tell me they think “at least 50%” of people are in prison are there for drugs. Actually, it’s closer to 20%. I’ve asked that question dozens of time (“What % of Americans in prison do you think are there for drugs?”), and no one has ever gone as low as 1 in 5. (The same phenomenon occurs when I ask the percentages of police killings for blacks, where people go as high as 90%, when the reality is it’s 25%, and around 33–40% for unarmed shooting fatalities by police.) I’m not immune, either. I once thought the drug incarceration percentage was 50% when I first wrote about police violence post-Ferguson. The reason for this is simple: The most relevant facts often don’t get out into the public domain, but partisan “facts” and propaganda often does. It’s also true that less than three-tenths of 1% are in prison for simple possession of marijuana. Nearly 50% of people serving time are doing so for violent offenses, and nearly 20% are doing so for property crimes.

Violent crime is at rates double from 1960. But in the early 1990s it was five times higher than the year Nixon and Kennedy ran for president. (Source:

Because only 1 in 9 arrests are for drugs, it’s it defies statistical logic to argue that the War on Drug is the primary driver of police contact. Nor is it for mass incarceration, despite creative arguments about “stock versus flow.”

FiveThirtyEight wrote in 2015 the following headline: “Releasing Drug Offenders Won’t End Mass Incarceration.” One of the more nuanced op-ed in the New York Times about the recent rising death toll said it’s not the War on Drugs pushing up incarceration rates, but the aggressive punishment of violence as argued in the book Locked In by John F. Pfaff, Professor of Law at Fordham Law School. Pfaff says if you want to lower the prison population, you have to rein in prosecutors and change the sentencing laws on the books for other crimes that often have victims, as opposed to the “victimless crime” of selling or using drugs. My question to Pfaff is: How much longer are the sentences today than the 1970s, and how much lower is reasonable in sentencing reform given the tremendous societal impact of violent crime?

I would also argue it’s also the increase of violence itself that has led to prison population increases, such as the early 1990s when violent crime arrests were five times higher than the early 1960s. So when prison rates tripled from 1960 to 2010 according to Pew Research and U.S. Department of Justice data, we shouldn’t be too surprised. What’s surprising may be that every demographic group increased at the same rate — I calculated 2.6–3.4 times increases for white males, black males, black females and Hispanic males — except for one: White women increased their share of the prison population by 8 times!

I have other points on the subject in pieces I wrote. Simply search “The War on Drugs” in these two posts:

Additionally, this piece from diversity-minded non-profit journalism enterprise The Marshall Project is a solid take on what criminal justice reform means today:



Here are 6 studies showing blacks are NOT injured or shot at a higher rate than whites or other racial groups by police:

NEW June 2018: (“Is There Evidence of Racial Disparity in Police Use of Deadly Force? Analyses of Officer-Involved Fatal Shootings in 2015–2016”) ALSO: Author’s earlier analysis: (“A Bird’s Eye View of Civilians Killed by Police in 2015” Criminology and Public Policy) (Injury and Prevention: “Perils of police action: a cautionary tale from US data sets”) (Roland Fryer at Harvard: “An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force”) (College of William and Mary Department of Economics and the Crime Prevention Research Center: “Do White Police Officers Unfairly Target Black Suspects?”) (Washington State shooting study showing police shoot unarmed whites more in training than unarmed blacks DESPITE showing greater implicit bias against blacks: “The Reverse Racism Effect”)

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, among the most reliable, shows that the rate of killings of African Americans by police went down 70% since 1968–69. But the rate flat-lined for all other races.


Police shot 4–6 times more people in Chicago in the 1970s than present day. Look at page 19 (or original page 349).

60 Minutes — 2016 Chicago arrests down 33%. ACLU reforms and anti-police attitudes leading to major police draw-down is a major factor.

As a result, Chicago’s murder rate spiked up up 57% in 2016.

CDC — 70% drop in rate of killings of African Americans by police nationally since 1968.

Police nationally the last two years have shot and killed about 1 person per 300,000 residents (blacks around 25%, whites around 50%). The math is the following:

  • The Washington Post (2015): 318 million U.S. population ÷ 991 shooting deaths by police = 1 in 320,888.
  • The Guardian (2015): 318 million ÷ 1146 deaths by police — including off-duty killings and accidents = 1 in 277,000.
  • Overall, police killings dipped slightly in 2016, making for a two-year average of 1 in 329,000 for The Washington Post and 1 in 288,000 for The Guardian (for an average of 308,000).

Chicago shootings (police, civilian) 2015–2016, averaging 10 shooting deaths by police in a city of 2.72 million = 1 in 272,000.

Graph used in the ACLU Effect paper.


Ferguson Effect paper (2017):

“In this article, we examine the association between public concern over police violence and crime rates using Google search measures to estimate the former. Analyzing data on 43 large U.S. cities, we find that violent crime was higher and rose more in cities where concern about police violence was greatest. We also find that measures of social inequality predict crime rates.”

ACLU Effect paper (2018):

“Our regression equations permit quantification of the costs of the decline in stop and frisks. Because of fewer stop and frisks in 2016, it appears that (conservatively calculating) approximately 239 additional victims were killed and 1129 additional shootings occurred in that year alone. And these tremendous costs are not evenly distributed, but rather are concentrated among Chicago’s African-American and Latino communities.”

Authors Defense of ACLU Effect paper:

“In responding to each of Professor Pfaff’s questions to us, it may be fair to pose a single question back to him. Based on our review of on-the-street reports from Chicago, regression analysis of the available data, qualitative analysis of possible ‘omitted variables,’ and relevant criminology literature, we believe that the best explanation for the 2016 Chicago homicide spike was s reduction in stop and frisks triggered by the ACLU consent decree. If this isn’t the best explanation, is there a better one?”

ACLU’s response (direct critiques to their argument here):

Watch ACLU Effect author Paul Cassell on YouTube present slides like this one above to show the clear change in policing that coincided with an immediate spike in criminal homicide and shootings in Chicago. Professor Cassell’s Wikipedia page says the ACLU Effect “argument has been disputed,” I would says the data backs what anyone with common sense would see. And to quote Cassell: “If this isn’t the best explanation, is there a better one?”

3000 more people murdered since 2014 (the year of Ferguson protests), when FBI listed murder totals as 14,164. “In 2016, the estimated number of murders in the nation was 17,250. This was an 8.6 percent increase from the 2015 estimate, a 16.1 percent increase from the 2012 figure”



David Shuey

Writer. Researcher. Designer. Human seeking better outcomes for all. Empiricism, relevant facts, and logical arguments > simple narratives.