Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee declared on Fox News last weekend that the majority of people killed by police are white — a misleading claim, considering a disproportionate number of unarmed black people die in officer-involved shootings. So he added a new layer to his argument Monday, one that drew quite a bit of Internet mockery:
“The pure facts also reveal that 94 percent of those killed by police are men,” he said in an email to the Post’s Fact Checker, “so by your ‘proportional’ standards, the real movement in America should be ‘Male Lives Matter.'”
Considering Huckabee’s insistence that “all lives matter,” it’s unlikely he truly wants to shift the conversation to gender. The obvious fallacy: The men he speaks of are mostly killed by men.
Law enforcement remains one of the least gender-diverse professions in the United States — and that could be a major factor in the questionable shootings and excessive force complaints against police. Female officers have fewer of these problems than their male colleagues, which could make gender diversity a key to addressing the breakdown in the relationship between the nation's police and the community.
Studies have found female officers tend to place more importance on de-escalation and community trust building. “Female officers are better at defusing potentially violent confrontations before those encounters turn deadly,” wrote Katherine Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation, in an essay for The Washington Post last year.
Women on the force also appear to be more inclined to call out their colleagues for shady behavior. A 1994 study of 861 officers in Illinois — 96 percent of which were men — found the small band of women were more likely to report spotting unethical actions by fellow officers.
Male police officers, meanwhile, are disproportionately more likely than their female colleagues to draw citizen complaints about excessive force, wind up in excessive force lawsuits and be in involved in lawsuits that lead to significant victim payouts. Of the 54 officers charged with fatally shooting someone while on duty in the past decade, only two were women.
“I will say that women can’t rely on greater physical strength, so they generally rely on relationships and talking to people,” said Ellen Glasser, a retired FBI special agent who teaches criminology at the University of North Florida. “With more women officers, I think we would see fewer shootings and a different style of community policing.”
She warns people not to blindly accept stereotypes; some female officers are aggressive with citizens, and some male officers are gentle negotiators. Still, the macho culture of police academies can sometimes deter promising female recruits, she said.
“Half of criminal justice students in college are women,” she said, “so the number of female hires should be much higher.”
About 88 percent of the nation’s officers are men, a decrease from roughly 97 percent in the '70s.
There's an economic case for greater gender balance, too. A 2002 report from the National Center for Women and Policing found male officers tend to be more expensive, and not because their salaries are higher.
“The average male officer on a big city police agency costs taxpayers somewhere between two-and-a-half and five-and-a-half times more than the average woman officer in excessive force liability lawsuit payouts,” the authors wrote. “He is over eight-and-a-half times more likely to have an allegation of excessive force sustained against him, and he is two to three times more likely to have a citizen name him in a complaint of excessive force.”
Researchers crunched data from police departments across the country, using reports from 1990 to 2000. For a glimpse into the gender ratio of payouts in civil litigation for excessive force, they looked at two major departments: Los Angeles police and Cincinnati police.
Los Angeles, for example, paid $63.4 million to victims over that 10-year period for judgments or settlements in lawsuits that involved excessive force by a male officer. Just 2.8 million was paid out for cases involving female officers.
LAPD men on patrol outnumbered women by a ratio of 4 to 1, the authors noted. Payouts involving men exceeded those for women by 23 to 1. This gender gap widens with violence, the authors noted: “When payouts for assault and battery are examined, the ratio further increases to 32:1. If only fatalities are considered, it skyrockets to 43:1.”
Meanwhile, in Cincinnati, women represented 17.1 percent of police officers. From 1990 to 2000, they accounted for only 7.7 percent of dollars paid in settlements for excessive force and wrongful death. Examining just the wrongful death category, male officers account for a staggering 94.8 percent of the dollars paid in settlements.
Most excessive force incidents, the authors emphasize, don’t lead to a lawsuit — and settlements don’t always indicate guilt. Still, their verdict: “By better understanding the gender dimensions of excessive force, police executives and community leaders can strive toward hiring more women officers who will be less likely to engage in brutality.”
It’s important to acknowledge that one’s gender does not control one’s trigger finger. But years of evidence suggest more women in policing could lead to less officer-involved shootings.
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