Article published Thursday, February 26, 2015, at TribLive.

Facts on police & race

By John R. Lott, Jr.

FBI Director James Comey's recent speech on police and race was about as politically incorrect a speech as you will get these days from a high-ranking government official. Comey acknowledges “the existence of unconscious (racial) bias,” but he doesn't think that racism is responsible for so many blacks being in jail.

Unlike President Obama, he doesn't see a need to change the way police are trained. Comey recognizes that there are real problems, but he believes they arise from drugs, underperforming schools and unemployment.

Comey's comments are at odds with what blacks are telling pollsters. Compared with other Americans, blacks were 29 percent more likely to primarily attribute the disproportionate imprisonment of blacks to racial discrimination. Blacks are much more likely to say that police treat blacks less fairly than whites. And blacks are also more likely to believe that the police are dishonest.

The media bombard people with “evidence” that blacks are being discriminated against. Take the widely reported falsehood that black men age 15-19 are 21 times as likely as whites to be killed by a police officer. These numbers are based on reports from just 1.2 percent of police departments. The departments that provide these numbers are in very heavily black, urban areas. Comey's talk called for improvements in this data to prevent what he called “ideological thunderbolts.”

There is actually strong evidence that blacks trust police at least as much as whites do. What people say and what they do are often very different.

If blacks really believed that arrests are racially motivated, wouldn't they be less likely to turn to the police for help?

Similarly, if blacks thought that police don't care about solving the crimes committed against them, why bother to report the crimes?

If you believed the polls, you would think that blacks are reticent to report violent crimes. Yet, blacks actually act as if they are closer to Comey's views of police.

Less than half of violent crimes are reported to police. Blacks, however, are more likely than whites and other groups to turn to police for help. This is backed up by data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics for 2008-12. Whereas whites reported violent crimes only 45 percent of the time, blacks reported them on 54 percent of occasions. The gap persists across every type of violent crime.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that among people who are below 200 percent of the poverty line, whites face a higher violent crime rate than blacks do. Still, within this income group, blacks are more likely to report violent crimes. Among those with incomes above 200 percent of the poverty line, blacks face a higher violent crime rate. Again, blacks are more likely to report these crimes.

Comey spoke largely from personal experience. Hopefully, his words will help allay public hatred of the police.

Many blacks may feel that life has dealt them a bad hand, and Comey believes that is true. But if we look at what they do and not what they say, it's not clear that blacks as a whole harbor especially ill feelings.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of the recently released “At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?”

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