A 32-year old White Alabamian man* and the luxury of quantitative criminology

I have been conducting online experiments with MTurk and other similar online platforms for almost four years now. I usually leave a little feedback box at the end of each experiment, where participants can share their thoughts, make some comments, and potential complaints about the study. I have found this a very useful tool, especially during the piloting of the experiments, where many attentive respondents have pointed out several typos and other mistakes over the years.

Another potential way of using this box is to gain further insight how people think about the police. I distinctly remember one US respondent who mentioned that the police were fine, he very much liked them, but he loathed the sheriffs in her town.

When browsing through these responses from my latest experiment, I came across one from the respondent mentioned in the title of this post, which shook me to my core. This person wrote:

My first experience with the police was when I was 9, and they had the wrong house, making a raid because they thought a man who had an illegal firearm lived there. I was 9, and they kicked the door down stuck guns in my face, slammed to the ground and an officer put his foot on my neck. I was NINE. The last impression the cops made on me was yesterday. When I read about them forcing a man to cut his own dog’s head off after they killed it or they would take him to jail. I just LOVE the police. What great guys.

Needless to say, I was left speechless. This recollection reminded me of the several stories I read in Alice Goffman’s (2014) controversial book “On the Run” and Jyoti Belur’s (2009, 2010) articles on “police encounters” and how the police’s abuse of power and often times outright predatory policing can affect certain people’s lives.

This also made me think of how lucky quantitative criminologists – such as myself – are. I have worked on sensitive datasets such as the Independent Police Complaint Commission’s use of force database, which detailed the extent of the injury caused by the particular use of force, and included some lethal cases as well. However, I rarely stopped to look at the details case-by-case, as I was more interested in the inferences one could make by looking at the big picture. As a quantitative criminologist, I consider myself lucky that such cases as this Alabamian man’s do not haunt me most of the times. I am not ashamed to say, that I probably would not be able to cope with them.

Belur, Jyoti. 2009. “Police Use of Deadly Force: Police Perceptions of a Culture of Approval.” Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice 25(2):237–52.
Belur, Jyoti. 2010. “Why Do the Police Use Deadly Force: Explaining Police Encounters in Mumbai.” British Journal of Criminology 50:320–41.
Goffman, Alice. 2014. “On the Run – Fugitive Life in an American City”. The University of Chicago Press.

*For the sake of anonymity these details were slightly altered.

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