An independent research programme on the causes of ethnic/racial disparities in the police use of Taser

Research Institution / Organisation

College of Policing

Principal Researcher

Dr Paul Quinton

Level of Research

Professional / Work-based

Project Start Date

November 2021

Research Context

‚ÄčThis programme aims to explore the causes of ethnic/racial disparities in the police use of Taser that were evident in the Home Office data for England & Wales. It aims to move beyond simplistic individualised explanations that present either officer bias or offending propensity as the sole cause of ethnic/racial disparities in recorded police activities. Instead, the research aims to develop a socio-ecological explanation for these differences, based on a more nuanced understanding of the multitude of factors and processes at macro, meso and micro levels that are likely to affect the use of Taser and other types of force.

The programme of research has two core components: The first aims to understand whether, how and to what extent ethnic/racial disparities in Taser use can be explained by patterns in police workload and deployment intersecting with the socio-economic and demographic characteristics of the places where police activities are concentrated. It will explore the inter-relationship between organisational processes/factors internal to the police and structural processes/factors external to the police. It will also consider the effects of that that inter-relationship on ethnic/racial disparities in the use of Taser and other types of force, as well as on other police activities. Finally, it will explore the potential for any of these police activities to reproduce wider social inequalities.

The second component aims to understand whether, how and to what extent ethnic/racial disparities in Taser use can be explained by the factors and processes at play during use-of-force encounters. To develop a fully contextualised understanding of Taser use, the research will examine the factors and processes relevant to encounters where officers draw or discharge Taser compared to those where officers use other types of force, taking into the account the nature of those encounters and the various strategies that officers use to manage them.

Research Methodology

‚ÄčThe research has two main components, each with their own research design.
The first component seeks to use quantitative analysis of police data and other datasets to explore the macro/meso level factors and processes that situate use-of-force encounters and bring the police and public into conflict, which could explain ethnic/racial disparities in Taser use. This quantitative analysis will be supplemented by qualitative research that may include documentary analysis or expert interviews to help explore the inter-relationship of organisational or structural processes/factors.

The second component will use analysis of body-worn camera (BWC) footage and in-depth interviews with police officers to explore whether ethnic/racial disparities in Taser use can be explained by the micro level factors and processes at play in situations that have brought the police and public into conflict. This mixed-methods study will examine encounter management strategies, police-public interaction and officer decision-making.

An additional component, comprising small-scale, targeted case studies with members of the public about their personal and/or vicarious experiences of Taser may be included at a later date.

Date due for completion

March 2023
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