Results from experimental trials testing participant responses to White, Hispanic and Black suspects in high-fidelity deadly force judgment and decision-making simulations

Abstract

Objective

Advance the methodological techniques used to examine the influence of suspect race and ethnicity on participant decisions to shoot in an experimental setting.

Methods

After developing and testing a novel set of 60 realistic, high definition video deadly force scenarios based on 30 years of official data on officer-involved shootings in the United States, three separate experiments were conducted testing police (n = 36), civilian (n= 72) and military (n = 6) responses (n = 1,812) to the scenarios in high-fidelity computerized training simulators. Participants’ responses to White, Black and Hispanic suspects in potentially deadly situations were analyzed using a multi-level mixed methods strategy. Key response variables were reaction time to shoot and shooting errors.

Results

In all three experiments using a more externally valid research method than previous studies, we found that participants took longer to shoot Black suspects than White or Hispanic suspects. In addition, where errors were made, participants across experiments were more likely to shoot unarmed White suspects than unarmed Black or Hispanic suspects, and were more likely to fail to shoot armed Black suspects than armed White or Hispanic suspects. In sum, this research found that participants displayed significant bias favoring Black suspects in their decisions to shoot.

Conclusions

The results of these three experiments challenge the results of less robust experimental designs and shed additional light on the broad issue of the role that status characteristics, such as race and ethnicity, play in the criminal justice system. Future research should explore the generalizability of these findings, determine whether bias favoring Black suspects is a consequence of administrative measures (e.g., education, training, policies, and laws), and identify the cognitive processes that underlie this phenomenon.

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Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Lois James.

Additional information

Research supported by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (109279–001), the National Institute of Justice (2008-IJ-CX-0015), and the Office of Naval Research (DURIP#N000149810802)

Appendix A

Appendix A

Name: :

SHOT_Veh_01_N

Type: :

Vehicle stop

Difficulty: :

Naive

Synopsis: :

The vehicle contains a Black male driver, no passengers. The suspect appears intoxicated; his movements are sluggish. He appears to search for his license then slowly pulls out a handgun, points it at the officer and opens fire.

Name: :

SHOT_SusP_04_N

Type: :

Investigation of suspicious persons

Difficulty: :

Naive

Synopsis: :

A White male suspect in an empty parking lot appears to be breaking into a car with a knife. He complies with the officer commands; he puts the knife on the roof of the car. He then reaches behind his back and pulls out a wallet.

Name: :

SHOT_SusP_20_J

Type: :

Investigation of suspicious persons

Difficulty: :

Journeyman

Synopsis: :

A Black male, a White female and a White male appear to be dealing drugs on the roof of an empty warehouse. The Black male and White female take off running and the White male quickly pulls out a handgun, points it at the officer and opens fire.

Name: :

SHOT_DwelH_08_I

Type: :

Domestic disturbance

Difficulty: :

Intermediate

Synopsis: :

A White male has hold of a White female. They are both shouting and swearing. The male drags the female down a hallway and pulls out a handgun, shoots the female, then turns on the officer and opens fire.

Name: :

SHOT_DwelH_14_J

Type: :

Domestic disturbance

Difficulty: :

Journeyman

Synopsis: :

A Black male and a Black female who is holding a baby are shouting at each other. They are both at the bottom of a flight of stairs going down to the basement. The male pulls out a handgun, points it at the officer and opens fire

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James, L., Vila, B. & Daratha, K. Results from experimental trials testing participant responses to White, Hispanic and Black suspects in high-fidelity deadly force judgment and decision-making simulations. J Exp Criminol 9, 189–212 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11292-012-9163-y

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Keywords

  • Police
  • Decision making
  • Suspect race
  • Suspect ethnicity