Group Threat, Police Officer Diversity and the Deadly Use of Police Force

64 Pages Posted: 12 May 2016 Last revised: 6 Dec 2016

See all articles by Joscha Legewie

Joscha Legewie

Harvard University - Department of Sociology

Jeffrey Fagan

Columbia Law School

Date Written: December 5, 2016


Officer-involved killings and racial bias in policing are controversial political issues. Prior research indicates that (perceived) group threat related to political mobilization, economic competition, and the threat of black crime areis an important explanations for variations in police killings across cities in the United States. We argue that a diverse police force that proportionally represents the population it serves mitigates group threat and thereby reduces the number of officer-involved killings. Count models support our argument. They show that group threat is largely driven by the threat of black crime. Black-on-white homicides increase officer-involved killings of African Americans but black-on-black homicides and measures for political and economic threat do not. However, a diverse police force reduces the influence of group threat lowering the number and rate of officer-involved killings of African Americans. The findings represent one of the first analyseis of an highly relevant important contemporary issue based on a recent and high-quality dataset from January 2013 to June 2016. By highlighting the interaction between group threat and the proportional representation of minority groups in police departments, our research advances group conflict and threat theories with important theoretical and policy implications for law enforcement and representative bureaucracies more broadly.

Keywords: group threat, race, crime, crime rate, police, diversity

Suggested Citation

Legewie, Joscha and Fagan, Jeffrey, Group Threat, Police Officer Diversity and the Deadly Use of Police Force (December 5, 2016). Columbia Public Law Research Paper No. 14-512, Available at SSRN:

Joscha Legewie (Contact Author)

Harvard University - Department of Sociology ( email )

33 Kirkland Street
William James Hall, Sixth Floor
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Jeffrey Fagan

Columbia Law School ( email )

435 West 116th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States
212-854-2624 (Phone)
212-854-7946 (Fax)


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