Race, Crime and the Micro-Ecology of Deadly Force

David Klinger
Professor Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Missouri
Richard Rosenfeld
Founders Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of Missouri – St. Louis

Key Findings

  • Crime is the primary driver of police shootings.
  • Neighborhood racial composition and socioeconomic status do have indirect effects on police shootings through their effects on firearm violence, but only the level of firearm violence is directly associated with the frequency of police shootings across neighborhoods.
  • Neither neighborhood racial composition nor socioeconomic status is significantly associated with the frequency of police shootings.
  • Police use of deadly force is a function of serious crime—firearm violence in particular.


Limitations in data and research on the use of firearms by police officers in the United States preclude sound understanding of the determinants of deadly force in police work. The current study addresses these limitations with detailed case attributes and a microspatial analysis of police shootings in St. Louis, MO, between 2003 and 2012. The results indicate that neither the racial composition of neighborhoods nor their level of economic disadvantage directly increase the frequency of police shootings, whereas levels of violent crime do—but only to a point. Police shootings are less frequent in areas with the highest levels of criminal violence than in those with midlevels of violence. We offer a provisional interpretation of these results and call for replications in other settings.

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