Blue on Black: An Empirical Assessment of Police Shootings

Publication Title

American Criminal Law Review

Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2017


Michael Brown’s 2014 death in Ferguson, Missouri thrust police-officer-involved homicides into the popular consciousness. A series of subsequent officer-involved homicides has kept the issue politically and legally salient. Despite this, official data sources are thin and unreliable. This article presents original analysis of 259 police shooting incidents that occurred in Chicago between 2006 and 2014. The study, based upon publicly available information, suggests a more complex relationship between race, policing, and violence than one might expect from high-profile, officer-involved shootings. As in other large cities, shooting victims are overwhelmingly minorities, with Black persons constituting over 80% of victims. Contrary to intuition, many of the officer shooters are minorities as well. The analysis here suggests that neither racist malevolence nor unconscious bias afford complete explanations for why officer-involved shootings occur. Both of these explanatory frameworks focus too intensively upon individual officers’ decision-making at the expense of institutional and situational dynamics. Scholars and policy makers should focus far more intensively on regulating bad practices, rather than just on disciplining bad officers following egregious incidents. Shifting focus in this way will help identify connections between everyday policing tactics in minority neighborhoods – such as plainclothes policing and aggressive stop and frisk – and officer-involved shootings. The article also concludes that evidentiary challenges mar post hoc review of officer-involved shootings, whether it is in the form of judicial or civilian review. This also underscores the importance of preventive regulation.


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Recommended Citation

Nirej Sekhon, Blue on Black: An Empirical Assessment of Police Shootings, 54 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 189





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