The Effect of Race on Use of Force by Police

Olugbenga Ajilore
Associate Professor of Economics, University of Toledo

Key Findings

  • African American males are more likely to report incidents of excessive police force than other types of complaints, with young males more likely than older males to make such reports.
  • Male officers are more likely to be the subject of complaints about excessive use of force than female officers, and African American male officers are more likely to be the subject of complaints than male officers of other races.
  • Less experienced officers are more likely to be the subject of these complaints than officers who are more experienced.
  • Officers who have more previous allegations related to using force are more likely to be the subject of these complaints, while officers with more disciplinary actions against them are less likely, suggesting that discipline may work as an incentive to exercise more caution.


In the article, “Do #AllLivesMatter? An Evaluation of Race and Excessive Use of Force by Police,” Ajilore and Shirey used a new dataset of citizen complaints against the Chicago Police Department from 2011 to 2015 to estimate the effect of race on incidents involving excessive use of force; the data were obtained by Freedom of Information Act requests. The article was written after a Chicago Police task force issued a report finding that African Americans are more likely to have been shot, tasered, and subjected to traffic stops and vehicle searches than people of other races, and after a U.S. Department of Justice report that found racial disparities in the Chicago Police Department’s use of force. Ajilore and Shirey sought to determine whether African Americans are more likely to experience excessive use of force by police, controlling for factors like individuals’ demographics, police officers’ characteristics, and location of incident. They found that race played a role in complaints about excessive use of force as well as in the adjudication of complaints toward officers. Also, African American men living on the south side of Chicago were less likely to have their complaints sustained. [Caitlin: Do you want me to repeat some of the key findings bulleted above or is it enough for them to be there? If you want to include a major or one key finding that’s okay, but we do not need to list them all again] Ajilore and Shirey highlight the need for better data (e.g., a national database on police behavior), and suggest that rigorously analyzing such information could help law enforcement officials implement reforms and policymakers better understand how to address problems in police behavior.

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