First Advisor

Brian Renauer

Term of Graduation

Spring 2019

Date of Publication

Spring 7-12-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Criminology and Criminal Justice


Criminology and Criminal Justice




Police shootings, Discrimination in law enforcement, Race discrimination, Police -- Decision making



Physical Description

1 online resource (v, 89 pages)


Police use of deadly force is an understudied yet deeply important issue in our society. Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in public concern over use of deadly force, particularly when that force is used against people of color. Due to the relative low frequency of deadly force incidents, little is known about when such force is used, or who it is used on. Recent studies have found a racial disparity between white and black subjects of deadly force, with black subjects significantly over represented as a proportion of the population. This study further expands our understanding of police use of deadly force, specifically the situational context of its use against white and black subjects. We use 100 random cases from the Washington Post Fatal Force data set and conduct a content analysis on this sample to identify data on multiple possible situational factors. This exploratory study found several important differences between situations involving a white or black subject of a deadly police shooting. Black subjects are on average seven years younger than white subjects. Black subjects are statistically more likely to be killed following contact initiated by an officer, such as a traffic or pedestrian stop. White subjects are more likely to be killed following contact initiated by dispatchers or courts, such as a call for service or when serving a warrant. Differences were also found related to the reasons for contact, the location of the incident, and the forms of resistance from the subject. This study provides validation to claims that police use deadly force differently between black and white subjects, and implicates police officer training and discretion in the racial disparity of use of deadly force.


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