SciLine reaches out to our network of scientific experts and poses commonly asked questions about newsworthy topics. Reporters can use these responses in news stories, with attribution to the expert.
What are Quotes from Experts?
October 20, 2020
Have scientific studies found that certain communities are more likely to experience police violence? What factors have been found to contribute to this?
“Research has confirmed that the disparities in police violence discussed in the media are, indeed, true. Police violence is more likely to be directed towards people of color, particularly African Americans and Latinos, as well as towards people with lower incomes. These effects are independent, in that both race and socioeconomic status affect the likelihood of being exposed to violence, although racism appears to be the primary driver of disparities in police violence exposure. The prevalence of police violence exposure is also likely very high among Native Americans; although, like many questions about Native American public health, this has not been sufficiently researched. Epidemiological research has also found rates of assaultive police violence, especially sexual violence, to be very high among members of the LGBTQ+ community and among gender minorities who do not identify as male or female.” (Posted October 20, 2020)
Have studies documented how instances of police violence in a community may impact the mental health of community members?
“Most research to date has focused on direct exposure to police violence, although there is evidence that expectations of future victimization by the police, which may be an indicator of the general atmosphere of risk within a particular neighborhood or community, are linked to psychological distress and depression. Regardless of direct personal exposure to violence, the broader pattern of police violence in many U.S. communities can create a culture of fear and social fragmentation that will have widespread impacts, although more research is needed to fully understand the nature and extent of these effects.” (Posted October 20, 2020)
“Police brutality is both a measure and driver of health. Even nonfatal acts of police brutality impair our health and the strength of our relationship to service providers who could heal us. Violently policed neighborhoods pose threats to the emotional health of men and the cardiovascular health of Blacks, Latinos, and women. Inequitable policing is the conduit by which the structures of systemic inequities seep through the pores of our skins and deteriorate the organs that we need to live. Those organs include those we need to avoid hospitalizations, disablements, and death due to COVID-19.” (Posted October 20, 2020)
Have studies documented how instances of police violence may impact the mental health of other law enforcement officers?
“The limited research that exists on the impact of police violence on the mental health of the police themselves shows that perpetrating violence may lead to PTSD symptoms among officers. Similar findings have previously been shown with combat veterans; using excessive force, regardless of context, appears to be traumatic for the perpetrator as well as for the victim. This would suggest that police departments have direct self-interest in reducing rates of police violence, in addition to the benefits for the larger community.” (Posted October 20, 2020)
Are there evidence-supported structural changes to policing that can help reduce police violence broadly?
“The historic and ongoing legacy of racism in the United States is a major driver of disparities in police violence exposure, and addressing this will require major structural and systemic changes. Police are often tasked to handle social and public health issues (e.g., homelessness, substance use, mental illness) that are beyond their purview, and shifting funding from the police to other agencies and professions may lead to a more pro-social and less violent handling of these issues. Another problem is the lack of meaningful gun control in the U.S., which means police officers approach potentially dangerous situations knowing that there is a considerable likelihood that civilians may be armed, which may further increase their vigilance and propensity towards violence. Approaches that focus on the actions of individual police officers, such as implicit bias training or mandatory body cameras, are a start but their effectiveness will always be limited because they do not address the overriding systemic and structural issues.” (Posted October 20, 2020)
Are there evidence-supported tactics to subdue suspected perpetrators that don’t inflict physical harm?
“Nearly every democratic nation in the world, except the United States, has been able to establish approaches to policing that do not lead to widespread physical harm, sexual abuse, and death of civilians.” (Posted October 20, 2020)
What sensitivities should reporters be mindful of when covering police violence?
“Research has shown that racial and ethnic minorities are overrepresented as criminals or perpetrators compared to their white counterparts in the media, in addition to being significantly less likely to ever be portrayed as a victim. However, when racial and ethnic minorities are portrayed as a victim, they are also often dehumanized, demonized, criminalized, or described with other negative stereotypes which distracts anyone from being able to see that person as a true victim. Thus, repeated exposure to racial and ethnic minorities as criminals and the overrepresentation of white individuals as victims over time alters viewers perceptions of reality—the stereotype of who is considered a criminal is visually confirmed and white individuals simultaneously become symbolic of victimhood.
“We know that pretrial exposure to media can significantly shift jury member attitudes, and that racial and ethnic minorities are known to receive longer and harsher sentencing compared to White individuals. Thus, new policies that limit the type and amount of information that is released about a victim—particularly early on within an investigation—are critical to changing this narrative. More specifically, only information that is directly applicable to a given case should be reported publicly. Neutrality training could also increase balanced reporting. Reporting ethically should be a goal of any newsroom, and following the practice of other disciplines, public shaming for unethical news reporting practices could also shift media reporting norms.” (Posted October 20, 2020)
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Alyasah Ali Sewell, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Emory University
Jordan DeVylder, PhD, Associate Professor, Graduate School of Social Service, Fordham University
No disclosures to report.
Sarah E. Gaither, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Duke University