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Rooting out why blacks are shot more by LA County law enforcement

Charles Beatty, now 81, says he doesn't blame former LAPD Officer Ron Orosco for the shooting. He says he blames the training that Orozco recieved.
Charles Beatty, now 81, says he doesn't blame former LAPD Officer Ron Orosco for the shooting. He says he blames the training that Orozco recieved.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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Criminal justice experts are at odds in explaining why police in L.A. County fatally shoot black people at triple their proportion in the population, as found in a KPCC investigation.

The numbers:

Officer-involved shooting (OIS) fatalities by race in L.A. County 2010-2014:

Arrests by race in L.A. County 2010-2014:

Professor Terrence Allen, Ph.D., who studies minority policing issues at the University of Texas says “African Americans are stopped at a disproportionate rate, and that’s driven by preconceived notions of African Americans being criminally inclined.” He goes on to say many police officers have an “implicit bias” against black men. “There is a fear – the ‘Mandingo’ concept that black men are uncivilized,” according to Allen.

Some researchers tried to put that to the test in a simulation study led by Lois James, Ph.D., of Washington State University. James tested how officers respond to black, Latino, and white suspects. “What we found, which is a bit more controversial, is [police] are more hesitant to shoot black people, because they fear the consequences,” James explains. Her experiments show officers were less likely to erroneously shoot unarmed black suspects than they were unarmed whites – 25 times less likely in the study.

Recent investigations and analysis by KPCC, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and ProPublica have shone spotlights on officer-involved shootings. Consistently, the investigations show blacks are more likely to be shot. “I’m deeply concerned with what the numbers show,” Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) said in a September press conference. “The disproportionality….is frightening,” she continued.

Harvard economist, Sendhil Mullainathan who hails from Torrance, has studied police killings of blacks across the U.S. Mullainathan’s analysis says if racial bias were at play in shootings, we would have a “larger gap between the arrest rate and the police-killing rate.” He goes on to explore whether police prejudice can explain why African-Americans have so many more encounters with police.

Writing for Reason magazine, columnist Steve Chapman underscores that “the epidemic of unarmed blacks being killed by police comes not when black crime is high, but when it is low.”

AirTalk will hash out what is driving these numbers, and what policies, if any, can affect change. Share your thoughts in the comments.

With files by Aaron Mendelson and Frank Stoltze


John Roman, Senior Fellow, Justice Policy Center, Urban Institute - a think tank founded in 1968 to understand problems facing America’s cities

Lois James, Ph.D. in Criminal Justice, Research Assistant Professor, Washington State University; James research includes simulations of officer-involved shootings

Gregory Thomas, President, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE); Senior Executive for Law Enforcement Operations, Office of Kings County (Brooklyn) District Attorney

Terrence Allen, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, School of Social Work, University of Texas at Austin; Allen studies how communities perceive police officers