Quick on the Draw

Date01 June 2017
Published date01 June 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Quick on the Draw:
Assessing the
Relationship Between
Low Self-Control and
Officer-Involved Police
Christopher M. Donner
, Jon Maskaly
Alex R. Piquero
, and
Wesley G. Jennings
Police officers have a continuum of force options available to them, but, without
question, the most extreme of these options is deadly force. Recent officer-involved
shootings in the United States, and their subsequent media attention, have placed
police use of deadly force at the forefront of political, academic, and policy conver-
sations. While the extant literature has uncovered numerous structural, organiza-
tional, and situational predictors of police shootings, studies to date are more limited
with respect to individual-level factors and have essentially ignored criminological
theoretical constructs. Using Gottfredson and Hirschi’s general theory of crime as a
theoretical framework, the current study fills a gap in the literature by using personal
and agency records of 1,935 Philadelphia police officers to examine the relationship
between low self-control and officer-involved shootings. The results indicate that
officers with lower self-control are significantly more likely to have been involved
in a police shooting.
Loyola University Chicago, IL, USA
University of Texas at Dallas, Richardson, TX, USA
University of South Florida, Tampa, FL, USA
Corresponding Author:
Christopher M. Donner, Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology, Loyola University Chicago,
1032 W. Sheridan Road, Mundelein Center 805A, Chicago, IL 60660, USA.
Email: cdonner@luc.edu
Police Quarterly
2017, Vol. 20(2) 213–234
!The Author(s) 2017
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1098611116688066
police, use-of-force, shootings, self-control
There is a historical context (particularly in America) and a long line of research
that has documented a race-crime stereotype that inf‌luences how individuals
react to others, and this stereotype is attributable to an individual’s racial and
ethnic grouping (e.g., Duncan, 1976; Hilton & Von Hippel, 1990). In this vein,
policing historians and scholars have theorized and empirically demonstrated
how this race-crime stereotype (often referred to as implicit bias) is often appar-
ent among police of‌f‌icers (Payne, 2001; Peruche & Plant, 2006). In addition,
a series of shoot or do not shoot experimental studies have provided even further
evidence for the inf‌luence of implicit bias on decisions to shoot racial and ethnic
minorities, and these decisions are largely due to the perceptions of racial and
ethnic minorities as aggressive, violent, and dangerous (Correll, Park, Judd, &
Wittenbrink, 2002; Greenwald, Oakes, & Hof‌fman, 2003; Peruche & Plant, 2006;
Plant & Peruche, 2005; Plant, Peruche, & Butz, 2005).
With recognition of this historical context of race-based policing and race-
crime stereotypes as a backdrop, in recent years, several high-prof‌ile incidents of
of‌f‌icer-involved shootings have resparked a national debate on police use of
force in general and as it relates to racial and ethnic minorities in particular
(e.g., Alpert, 2015; Jennings, Fridell, & Lynch, 2014; Jennings, Lynch, & Fridell,
2015). For example, on October 14, 2013, Of‌f‌icer Cardan Spencer shot and
injured Bobby Bennett in Dallas, Texas. On August 9, 2014, Of‌f‌icer Darren
Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. On September
4, 2014, Trooper Sean Groubert shot and injured Levar Jones near Columbia,
South Carolina. On October 20, 2014, Of‌f‌icer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed
Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Illinois. One month later, on November 22,
2014, Of‌f‌icer Timothy Loehman shot and killed Tamir Rice in Cleveland,
Ohio. And, on April 4, 2015, Of‌f‌icer Michael Slager shot and killed Walter
Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. While agency investigations and
court proceedings will ultimately determine—or have already determined—if
these shootings were justif‌ied, family members, community residents, politicians,
academics, and police personnel themselves are left with key questions to
answer, such as ‘‘Was the shooting necessary?’’ and ‘‘Did the of‌f‌icer react too
quickly?’’ In other words, was the of‌f‌icer ‘‘quick on the draw?’’
Of‌f‌icer-involved shootings occur in a myriad of situations and, unfortunately,
are not a new phenomenon. However, recent shootings, such as those noted
earlier, and particularly those of unarmed suspects, have gained wide-spread
media attention, aided by both video footage and instantaneous online postings,
have ignited conversations across the country about police behavior, and have
214 Police Quarterly 20(2)

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