Do White Police Officers Unfairly Target Black Suspects?

38 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2016 Last revised: 9 Aug 2017

John R. Lott Jr.

Crime Prevention Research Center

Carlisle E. Moody

College of William and Mary - Department of Economics

Date Written: November 15, 2016


Using a unique data set we link the race of police officers who kill suspects with the race of those who are killed across the United States. We have data on a total of 2,699 fatal police killings for the years 2013 to 2015. This is 1,333 more killings by police than is provided by the FBI data on justifiable police homicides. When either the violent crime rate or the demographics of a city are accounted for, we find that white police officers are not significantly more likely to kill a black suspect. For the estimates where we know the race of the officer who killed the suspect, the ratio of the rate that blacks are killed by black versus white officers is large — ranging from 3 to 5 times larger. However, because the media may under report the officer’s race when black officers are involved, other results that account for the fact that a disproportionate number of the unknown race officers may be more reliable. They indicate no statistically significant difference between killings of black suspects by black and white officers. Our panel data analysis that looks at killings at the police department level confirms this. These findings are inconsistent with taste-based racial discrimination against blacks by white police officers. Our estimates examining the killings of white and Hispanic suspects found no differences with respect to the races of police officers. If the police are engaged in discrimination, such discriminatory behavior should also be more difficult when body or other cameras are recording their actions. We find no evidence that body cameras affect either the number of police killings or the racial composition of those killings.

Keywords: discrimination, police use of force, racial bias

JEL Classification: K42, J71

Suggested Citation

Lott, John R. and Moody, Carlisle E., Do White Police Officers Unfairly Target Black Suspects? (November 15, 2016). Available at SSRN: or

John R. Lott Jr. (Contact Author)

Crime Prevention Research Center ( email )

United States

Carlisle E. Moody

College of William and Mary - Department of Economics ( email )

Williamsburg, VA 23187-8795
United States
757-221-2373 (Phone)
757-221-1175 (Fax)

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