Lois James
Lois James

Long before such officer-involved shootings as those in Ferguson, Missouri, and North Charleston, South Carolina, researchers at WSU’s Sleep and Performance Research Center were using a simulator to study officer-involved shootings.

Mount Vernon, Wash., Police Lt. Chris Cammock said he spoke earlier this month with Lois James, research assistant professor in the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, about her research. Cammock hopes members of the Skagit Multiple Agency Response Team (SMART) may be able to visit the University’s deadly force simulator.

While the researchers found a bias against minorities, particularly African-Americans, they also found law enforcement officers tend to take more time deciding whether to use deadly force against a minority suspect, James said.

“We found pretty universally (people) are slower to shoot black suspects than white suspects,” she said.

James said that “counter-bias” could be caused by public backlash or fear of administrative action from superiors. Both tend to be greater when minorities are involved, she said.

Or it could be that officers are more aware of the biases, perceived or not.

“It might just be general concern that causes them to override this implicit bias,” James said. “Officers really do seem to be trying really hard to appropriately counter any biases they may have.”

Officer-involved shootings can be difficult to study, said James. No two are exactly alike, and they don’t happen all that often.

“It’s a fraction of a percent of all officer-civilian contact that evolves into a deadly encounter,” she said.

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Skagit Valley Herald