By: Stacy M. Brown / NNPA
A recent study in Health Services Research found that off-duty police officers commit homicides more often than previously thought, and media coverage of these events is limited.
The research analyzed murders by victim race and gender and the context surrounding these incidents.
The study revealed significant disparities in the victims of homicides and the media attention they receive based on their race and gender.
Black men emerged as the most frequent victims of off-duty police killings, accounting for 39.3%.
They were followed by white men at 25.2%, Hispanic men at 11.2%, white women at 9.1%, men of unknown race at 9.1%, and Black women at 4.1%.
Notably, Black women had the highest rate of off-duty police-perpetrated killings relative to white men.
The study also found significant discrepancies in news reporting based on the victim’s race.
Incidents involving Black and Hispanic victims were three times more likely to receive news coverage than other cases.
Moreover, news reports often identified the perpetrator as an off-duty officer when the victim was Black or Hispanic.
“Black men were the most frequent victims of off-duty police violence,” said Emmanuella Asabor, lead author of the study and an M.D.-Ph.D. student at Yale School of Medicine and Yale School of Public Health.
“And that’s consistent with the literature on policing. Due to the weapons allowances for off-duty police officers and that off-duty and even veteran police officers are imbued with a great degree of power to intervene, we felt that off-duty policing was worthy of investigation,” said Asabor, who reported the findings to Yale University News.
According to the analysis, less than half of the victims allegedly carried a weapon at the time of their killings, and nearly all were shot.
And while only 6.3% of the U.S. population identified as Black men in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 39.3% of those killed by off-duty police officers were Black men, the study found.
“Black men were the most frequent victims of off-duty police violence,” Asabor said. “And that’s consistent with the literature on policing.”
Conducted using a convergent mixed-methods design, the study drew upon the Mapping Police Violence database to create a comprehensive dataset of off-duty police-perpetrated killings.
Researchers also used data from Media Cloud to evaluate the extent and nature of news coverage surrounding these incidents.
The study shows concerning findings and emphasizes the urgent need for clear rules and more investigation into off-duty officers’ roles.
Through qualitative analysis of the narrative text accompanying the quantitative data, researchers uncovered several alarming patterns in off-duty police-perpetrated killings.
The study uncovered that off-duty officers exhibited violent behavior within their social networks, escalating situations, and intentionally concealing information regarding their use of lethal force.
Additionally, the research revealed a disturbing trend of off-duty officers frequently intervening while impaired and targeting individuals in crisis, endangering both the victims and potentially causing secondary trauma to witnesses.
Breaking down the percentages of individuals killed by off-duty police officers in comparison to on-duty officers, the study found that a disproportionately higher percentage of Black women victims (12.8%) lost their lives at the hands of off-duty officers, compared to 87.2% of on-duty officers killed.
This stark contrast in victim demographics signifies the significant impact of off-duty officers on Black women.
Conversely, the study highlighted that only 1.5% of white men fell victim to off-duty officers, in contrast to 98.5% who on-duty officers killed.
“That says to us that the rate of off-duty police perpetrated killings of Black women diverges from broad public discourse on policing, which tends to under-estimate the overrepresentation of Black women among policing victims,” Asabor said.
The researchers emphasized the importance of media outlets reporting on all killings by off-duty police officers, irrespective of the victim’s race.
They urged journalists to seek information from diverse sources instead of solely relying on statements provided by the police.
Furthermore, the researchers emphasized that establishing more precise distinctions between officers’ roles on and off duty is crucial in addressing the issue.
By defining these roles more effectively, law enforcement agencies can work towards resolving the systemic challenges associated with off-duty officer conduct.
“Reconsidering officers’ relationships to other citizens, particularly when they’re off duty, is critical for the conversation on police reform,” Asabor remarked.
“One message of our study is that there is space to reconsider the extent to which the broad deputization of off-duty police officers, in terms of their weapons carriage and their conduct, is potentially causing more harm than good.”