An Analysis of Officer-Involved Shootings

Problem

Police use of force, including officer-involved shootings, has been a controversial issue. Despite widespread protests over fatal police shootings, there is limited evidence that implemented reforms have effectively reduced unnecessary deadly force over time.

Background

For decades, there have been calls to reduce unnecessary police violence through interventions such as additional training, crisis de-escalation tactics, community policing initiatives, and body-worn cameras. Research shows some interventions, like crisis intervention training, can be effective in promoting safer police interactions. However, high-profile cases of police brutality indicate further reform is needed to address systemic issues around accountability and transparency. Although prior studies have found correlations between certain policies and reductions in use of force, there is still limited evidence on the real-world effectiveness of police reforms, especially regarding their impact on fatal shootings.

Policy Response

On April 29, 2021, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner outlined plans to implement a number of recommendations from the Mayor’s Task Force on Policing Reform to improve accountability, transparency, change police policies and build mutual trust and respect with the community. Specifically, the mayor announced that over half of the task force’s recommendations would be enacted, including releasing body camera footage within 30 days of incidents, banning “no-knock” warrants for nonviolent offenses, restructuring the Independent Police Oversight Board (IPOB) and appointing a new chair, naming a Deputy Inspector General to serve in the newly created Office of Policing Reform and Accountability, launching an online Police Transparency Dashboard to improve public complaint filing and access to information, investing $25 million in crisis intervention and domestic violence programs, and committing to Safe Harbor Courts for those unable to afford warrants and fines. Through these comprehensive measures, the Houston Police Department sought to promote transparency, prevent excessive use of force, and strengthen community relationships.

Key Takeaways

  • Ten months after the new policies were implemented in Houston, there was a small but noticeable link to fewer shootings involving police officers.
  • The numbers show a general decrease in incidents where officers fired their guns. 93% of citizens shot by police were male. Compared to Houston’s demographics, a disproportionately high number of shootings involved Black (55%) and Hispanic (28%) community members.
  • Over half of the persons shot by police were holding weapons at the time, including 53% with guns and 14% with other weapons. However, 21% of those injured or killed were confirmed to be unarmed when shot.
Overall, the initial data indicates some potentially positive effects from the policy changes, with fewer total police shootings and a reduction of harm to unarmed civilians. But significant racial disparities persist in the incidents that do occur. Further monitoring and reforms are likely still required to protect minority groups. There is also a need for more research to help identify the degree and extent to which Houston’s police reforms impact police activity and community responses.