Retired Police Maj. Neill Franklin also highlighted the need for cultural and logistical shifts in policing. He pointed to the "war on drugs" waged by the federal government as an example.
That campaign "is clearly a public health issue when it comes to addiction, but for decades we have been using our police departments as the tip of the spear in dealing with this public health issue," said Franklin, who now serves as executive director of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership, an advocacy group comprising criminal justice professionals.
That spear, he said, has often been pointed toward black communities in inner cities.
The study authors said other factors may also be at play. It's possible that the lightness or darkness of a person's skin tone within his or her racial and ethnic group could affect his or her risk. So could geography, if Latino citizens are treated differently in different states.
But in order to probe such questions, scientists say they need far more data than is currently available. Information on police stops, whether or not they result in an arrest, would be crucial in determining the extent to which racial bias plays a role in police contact.
Franklin, who spent much of his 34-year career in law enforcement in the Baltimore city and Maryland state police departments, agreed.
"We need to do a much better job on monitoring the interactions of our police officers as they're going about their daily duties," he said. "I think we would be foolish to believe that we have solved to any great extent the issue of racial profiling in this country regarding police."
Getting that data will require more cooperation from police departments across the country, the researchers added.
"The United States is unique among wealthy democracies in terms of the number of people that are killed by its police forces," Feldman said. "I think the No. 1 thing it comes down to is a lack of accountability by police departments, both legally and politically."
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