Dave Smith: But Will They Change?

A new study's findings refute social activists' assumptions about police shootings and race.

Dave Smith Headshot

Dave Smith (aka Buck Savage)Dave Smith (aka Buck Savage)Illustration: Sequioa Blankenship

The War on Cops has been an odd phenomenon for those of us who have spent our lives in any way involved in the American criminal justice system. Accusations against the nation's peace keepers have shaken the foundations of the Republic and the reverberations have fed into the current discord that plays out daily on the political and media stages.

Outrageous and provocative claims have been the lead story any time a police shooting occurs that has the least bit of controversy associated with it. Whenever there is a judicial action following these critical incidents and the officers involved are cleared rather than ending the controversy, brand new charges of rigged and racist systems become the theme of the day.

"Facts," both false and true, fly in every direction and numbers of arrests, shootings, and convictions seem to come out of the blue often with questionable or no methodology based on any scientific standard. So, along come Professor Joseph Cesario of Michigan State University and Professor David Johnson of the University of Maryland, who seek to provide reliable numbers to see what reality tells us about police shootings.

After contacting every agency involved in fatal officer-involved-shootings since 2015 they drew some remarkable conclusions that should have shaken the foundations of the key assumptions the political and social activists hold so dear. First, the race of the officer doesn't matter in determining whether black or white citizens get shot. In fact, the study says, "If anything, black officers are more likely to shoot black citizens."

Second, the rate of crime by each racial group predicts the likelihood of being shot. White neighborhoods lead to white people being shot, black neighborhoods lead to black people being shot. Sadly for the diversity crowd, increasing the diversity of an agency doesn't reduce the likelihood of shootings. It turns out criminality leads to shootings, just as we thought.

Another finding not highlighted by any media but a truth we all knew, mental health is a terrible element in officer-involved-shootings; 50% of white fatal shootings, 30% of Hispanic fatal shootings, and 20% of black fatal shootings involved mental health issues, putting a stake through the heart of the argument that emotionally disturbed folks are no more likely to be involved in criminal activity than other citizens.

The most controversial issue, the shooting of unarmed citizens, turns out to be so rare or uncommon that the good professors could draw no actual conclusion about it. The research found that the vast majority of shootings involved criminal violence and 90% to 95% of fatal shootings involve people actively attacking police or other citizens. Accidental or misinterpretations such as perceiving a cell phone as a gun turn out to be extremely rare.

So, what next? How will the media, politicians, activists, academics, DOJ, and the rest of the "change of the culture of police" crowd react? How many will reevaluate their stance? How will the jaundiced eye of the nightly news change in light of this new data?

Based on the history of these groups, facts are not relevant. We are in the midst of a bizarre social experiment based on what is appearing more and more to be an emotionally driven vision of some utopian society. Organizational behaviorist William Starbuck wrote: "organizations find it very difficult to acknowledge that their current beliefs are incorrect or inadequate, and the unlearning process is extremely painful."

In other words, Dr. Starbuck explains, people can learn new facts and data but until they "unlearn" the falsehoods, which they cling to, actual changes don't occur. In fact, the media has been quick to include comments that seem to deny the credibility or reality of the MSU research. In a Reutter's article they are quick to include the following statement: "Melina Abdullah, a professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles and a co-founder of the local chapter of the Black Lives Matter movement, said she agreed that increasing diversity in police departments would not necessarily lead to less shooting. 'It's still true what we've been saying, which is were less concerned about the racial make-up of police forces than we are kind of (sic) the institutional racism carried out by police, regardless of race,' Abdullah said."

So Reuters ends their article and makes Dr. Starbuck's point: People can learn new facts without ever changing their behavior. Let's hope the DOJ, the media, the politicians, and academia can unlearn the wrong ideas and accepts the facts. But even if they don't, you and I can utilize these undisputable facts to help fight the false narrative of widespread racism in police use-of-force decision making.

Dave Smith is an internationally recognized law enforcement trainer and is the creator of "JD Buck Savage." You can follow Buck on Twitter at @thebucksavage.

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