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Influence of the Environment on Officer-Involved Shootings

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Tyler Keller, Joel Caplan, and Leslie Kennedy

Research

Influence of the Environment on Officer-Involved Shootings

Tyler Keller, Joel Caplan, and Leslie Kennedy

Past research of officer involved shootings (OIS) has focused on evaluating incidents occurring in large geographic areas such as cities or counties. Very little research has been conducted of the relationship between OIS and crime within specific areas of a community.  Studies that have been conducted of OIS in specific areas, such as neighborhoods, have focused on two contributing factors, the structural disadvantage of citizens and levels of violence. The structural disadvantage perspective “includes measures for segregation as well as forms of economic disadvantage”. This study collected data on a block level for percentage of unemployment, African Americans, residents receiving public assistance or food stamps/SNAP, residents with a bachelor’s degree or higher, female-headed households, and median household income.

 

Conversely, community levels of violence suggest “certain locations create more potential dangers for police”. To accomplish this, incidents of “criminal homicides, robbery with a firearm, aggravated assault with a firearm, and aggravated assault without a firearm” that occurred in each block were identified.

 

Using this data, researchers sought to determine if OIS are associated with:

  1. Violent crime involving a gun within block groups
  2. Violent crime is connected to the built environment such as businesses, parks, and other areas that attract people, or
  3. Where there is an increased potential for gun violence.

 

To evaluate these hypotheses, researchers examined officer-involved shootings during a five-year period (2015 – 2019) in 1,324 block areas within the City of Philadelphia. Of these, 1,252 block areas had no officer involved shootings, 68 had one event, and 4 had two events, for a total of 72 events.

 

To evaluate the built environment within in the city, researchers utilized a Risk Terrain Modeling (RTM) to evaluate gun crime data with 31 various features within a neighborhood (i.e. ATMs, check cashing business, night clubs, convenient stores). Using this information, areas that were identified as having more than two standard deviations higher than the average were designated as ‘high risk’.

 

Of the 31 place features, 15 were significant for aggravated assault with a firearm, 13 were significant for shootings, and 20 were significant for robberies with a firearm. There was a large overlap across the three violent gun crimes, however, there were differences in their relative risk values (RRV). (p.109)

 

For example, ‘proximity to a grocery/convenient stores provided a risk that was seven times greater for experiencing a shooting’ and passenger rail stations were more than four times greater for a robbery with a firearm. Researchers used this information to create a proportional opportunity score (POS) that compared gun crime with ‘the proportion of high-risk cells within a block group.’

 

However, an examination of the position opportunity scores for the three different gun crimes and the five-year average, found that areas that provided a higher proportional opportunity for shootings, have higher levels of violence that may increase the likelihood of an officer-involved shooting.

 

In closing, these findings support previous research that suggests “levels of violence as measured by the violent crime rate are the strongest predictor of OIS events.” Furthermore, structural disadvantage (i.e. racial makeup, education, income) had “no connection to locations where officers discharged their weapons”.  The authors noted that while the study findings did not find a relationship between OIS and structural disadvantages, they could not rule out a relationship between lower levels of force and structural disadvantages.

Tyler Kelley
Criminal Justice associate professor Joel Caplan
Leslie Kenndey

Tyler Keller, Joel Caplan, and Leslie Kennedy, “The Influence of the Environment on Officer-Involved Shootings”, Homicide Studies, Vol. 27 (1), 97-119, (2023).

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