Racial Composition of Neighborhoods and Policing Practices 

September 9, 2022

In 2021, Assistant Scientist Hossein Zare and his team looked at the social vulnerability and racial composition of populations at the county level to determine whether these are associated with different rates of police fatal shootings, arrests and violent crimes.   

With funding from the Initiative, the researchers performed an integrated systematic literature review to critically evaluate the current evidence, focusing on violent crimes and police fatal shootings between 2000 and 2022.   

The findings showed that:    

  • Racial/ethnic minorities are disproportionately stopped, experience a higher probability of arrest, and are more commonly subjected to police-involved fatal shooting.    

  • Victims are more likely to live in neighborhoods with lower income and distressed communities of color, higher poverty ratios, and the highest levels of criminal violence.    

  • Citizens reporting of negative interactions with police is strongly associated with the race/ethnicity of the population and law enforcement officers.    

Researchers also analyzed Mapping Police Violence Data and the Washington Post Fatal Force Data and found that residents in counties with greater social vulnerability were more likely to be fatally shot by police. Moving from low-vulnerability to high-vulnerability counties, the number of fatal police shootings increased 2.3 times in White, 9.6 times in Black, and 15 times in Hispanic populations. Ethnicity and racial composition were significant predictors of fatal police shootings.   

These findings stress the need for individuals, families, communities, and policymakers in cooperation with professional organizations and psychologists to find the reasons behind the racial and county biases and to protect peoples’ lives.  

The findings from this project helped secure additional funding to explore how social vulnerability, race, ethnicity, and state policy explain police fatal shootings, in smaller geographical areas. In 2021 they presented their findings at the APHA annual research conference and at the Academy Health Annual Research Meeting. Their work was recently published in the journals of Social Sciences and in Preventive Medicine in 2022.  

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