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Does the “reverse racism effect” withstand the test of police officer fatigue?

Lois James (College of Nursing, Washington State University, Spokane, Washington, USA)
Stephen James (Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, Washington State University, Spokane, Washington, USA)
Bryan Vila (Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, Washington State University, Spokane, Washington, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 15 May 2017




Policing faces several critical problems, the most immediate of which are arguably public perceptions of racial bias, and widely prevalent officer fatigue related to shift work and long work hours. The purpose of this paper is to determine whether the “reverse racism effect” still occurred when officers were extremely fatigued.


Controlled laboratory experiments were conducted during which experienced police patrol officers responded to black and white suspects in deadly force judgment and decision-making simulations on two occasions; once immediately following the last of five consecutive 10:40 hours patrol shifts (fatigued condition) and again 72 hours after completing the last shift in a cycle (rested condition).


Contrary to expectations, the authors found that officer fatigue did not significantly affect shooting behavior. Furthermore, the authors did not find a significant interaction between officer fatigue and suspect race on either reaction time to shoot or the likelihood of shooting an unarmed suspect. Thus, the reverse racism effect was observed both when officers were rested and fatigued.

Research limitations/implications

As policing agencies around the country respond to allegations of racial bias, both the public and police search for empirical evidence about whether negative perceptions are accurate about officers’ motivations in deadly encounters. The research reported here provides insight about how fatigue effects officers’ decisions to shoot black vs white suspects, and directly addresses this high profile and divisive national issue.


This is the first valid experimental test of the impact of fatigue on officer shooting behavior, and the interaction between police fatigue and suspect race on decisions to shoot.



James, L., James, S. and Vila, B. (2017), "Does the “reverse racism effect” withstand the test of police officer fatigue?", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 40 No. 2, pp. 184-196.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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