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Drexel study: Blacks nearly three times as likely as whites to be killed by police

A new analysis of police shootings nationwide over five years shows that blacks are nearly three times as likely as whites to be killed by police, in contrast to a widely publicized Harvard University study.

James W. Buehler, a professor at Drexel University's Dornsife School of Public Health, found higher death rates for minorities at the hands of police, as other researchers have long documented.

Using data from 2010 to 2014, Buehler calculated that African Americans had died at a rate of 6.8 per million residents, markedly higher than the white rate of 2.5.  The Hispanic rate, 4.1, was between the figures for blacks and whites.

"I wanted to put out this reminder that there are important disparities,"  said Buehler, who teaches in the department of health management and policy and served as Philadelphia's health commissioner from 2014 to 2016.

The analysis was published Tuesday in January's issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Between 2010 and 2014, police in the United States killed about 450 civilians a year, nearly all of them men.

In Philadelphia, police have killed five and wounded nine in 2016. In 2012, a peak year for officer-involved shootings in the city, 16 were killed and 32 wounded.

In July, Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. published a study that drew considerable attention, especially among conservative news outlets and critics of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Fryer found no racial differences in examining police gunfire in Houston, a city that made available an unusually detailed amount of data about its police shootings.

A frequent collaborator on projects examining race with Freakonomics author Steven Levitt, Fryer determined that though officers were more prone to use nonlethal force against black citizens, there was no evidence of racial bias in deadly encounters that had been precipitated by specific events.  Indeed, Fryer wrote that in Houston, African Americans were nearly 24 percent less likely to be shot at by police than whites were.

Buehler said Fryer's conclusion could not be generalized beyond Houston because of the difficulty of obtaining sufficient data about each event from other cities.

Though Fryer, who is African American, acknowledged that minority death rates at the hands of police were proportionally higher  than for whites, the economist looked at police shootings as a subset of police encounters in Houston such as aggravated assault; other categories, such as routine traffic stops, were not included in the analysis.

Fryer declined to comment on the new study.

Because of their different focuses, Buehler said he saw no conflict between his study and the Harvard one.

"I don't think [Fryer] got anything wrong," Buehler said. "I thought what he did was ask a very specific question, and the answer was misinterpreted and misunderstood."