Ingram Olkin Forum: Police Use of Force

June 4, 2021 1-3 pm ET


[Please Note: This Ingram Olkin Forum session has already occurred.  Go to the News Story for this event to read about what happened.]


Excessive use of force by police presents an urgent problem of concern to sociologists, statisticians, policymakers, and the general public. Topics of interest include issues with data quality, the role of civilian/officer characteristics, the effect of departmental training, as well as other topics. The methodologies used to analyze police use of force have also been extremely varied and results are often incompatible. Our speakers describe their perspective on the steps statisticians and scholars need to take to effectively analyze use of force data and reform efforts, and to communicate this to the public.

To honor the work and actions of the late Ingram Olkin, an eminent statistician, mentor and contributor to social causes, NISS brings together experts and researchers from a variety of fields and backgrounds into forums.  The focus of these forums is to bring forward a current societal issue that might benefit from attention from the statistical community and others, as well as to encourage future conversation and collaboration.

The organizing committee hopes to plan a full-length meeting on this topic in the fall, either hybrid or in-person, following this initial Police Use of Force Forum. The goal of the initial forum is to identify issues in data quality/availability and methodology that can be discussed in more detail in the following forum, and to develop collaboration/ideas to address these topics.


Register for this Event Here!


The Forum will be a panel discussion with three prominent researchers who have written extensively on this subject. They are:

Dean Knox
Assistant Professor in Operations, Information, and Decisions
Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania

Robin Engel
Professor, School of Criminal Justice
Director, IACP / UC Center for Police Research and Police
University of Cincinnati

Travis Riddle
Data Scientist
National Police Foundation


Claire Kelling, Penn State University

1:00-1:15 Introduction 

James Rosenberger (NISS Director, Penn State University)
Claire Kelling (Penn State University)

1:15-1:35 Dean Knox (University of Pennsylvania)

"The Need for a General Causal Framework to Study Police Violence."

Abstract: A series of controversial police-involved killings and nationwide protests have recently reinvigorated the study of racial bias in policing. But a fractured interdisciplinary literature presents contradictory claims, and scholars have struggled to reconcile a dizzying array of seemingly incompatible analytic approaches that often rely on implausible and/or unstated assumptions. This confusion arose in part because data constraints have prompted researchers to examine only isolated aspects of the police–civilian encounters they seek to understand — focusing only on traffic stops in one study, or fatal shootings in another — while neglecting the complex, multi-stage nature of these interactions. The result is a conflicting and at times misleading body of evidence. To move toward a scientific consensus, scholars should converge on a common empirical framework that unites these disparate approaches under a shared conceptual umbrella, acknowledges the causal nature of the study of racial bias, accounts for the fundamental limitations of policing data, and yields substantively interpretable results that are useful to policymakers.

1:35-1:55 Robin Engel (University of Cincinnati)

Understanding the Impact of De-escalation during Police-Civilian Interactions: Developing a Comprehensive Research Framework

Abstract: The complexities and inadequacies surrounding the collection and analysis of police use of force data that are well known to the academic community are becoming increasingly referenced in the public discussions regarding police reform. Chief among these concerns include the inconsistency in data collection across agencies, vast differences in measures of use of force, and inappropriate application of these data to comparison benchmarks. New to this conversation, however, is the collection and analysis of use of force de-escalation tactics and skills that are being trained as part of the broader police reform movement. Similar problems plague these data and analyses. To date, only a handful of studies have considered whether the use of de-escalation tactics –and de-escalation training more generally – results in the intended outcome of making interactions safer for officers and the public. In an effort to better understand the impact of de-escalation tactics and skills to reduce the use and severity of force, a framework for improved data collection, research designs, and statistical analyses is presented. Guidance for police executives and other policy implications are also considered.

1:55-2:15 Travis Riddle (National Police Foundation)

Why don’t we know more about officer-involved shootings?

Abstract:  In recent years, use of force by law enforcement officers has received significant attention from the community, media and researchers. However, systematic insights into the details of these incidents remain lacking. How do police and community members come together to produce an event that results in force? What causes events to escalate? Who is likely to be involved? The National Police Foundation attempted to explore these questions by collecting highly granular data around police use of force incidents from a set of large law enforcement agencies. Our research suggests that the data problems with use of force incidents extend well beyond simple availability of the data. Without additional structures, resources, or support for the agencies involved in use of force incidents, systematically collecting granular event-level data across heterogeneous agencies may not be possible at all.

2:15-2:50 Moderated Discussion

2:50-3:00 Synthesis and Next Steps

About the Speakers

Robin Engel (University of Cincinnati) 

Robin S. Engel, Ph.D. is Professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati (UC) and Director of the International Association of Chiefs of Police / UC Center for Police Research and Policy. Dr. Engel engages in police research and evaluations designed to reduce harm in communities and make police-citizen encounters safer, promoting best practices through academic-practitioner partnerships. She has served as Principal Investigator for over eighty research grants and was previously ranked among the top academics, and the number one female in the field of criminal justice/criminology based on publications in prestigious peer-reviewed journals. Her work on community violence reduction resulted in several prominent national and international awards. She currently serves as a governor-appointed member of the Ohio Collaborative Community-Police Advisory Board, and as the co-chair of IACP’s Research Advisory Committee. She is a consultant on police training for the Ohio Attorney General, and serves as a member of the National Police Foundation’s Council on Policing Reforms and Race.

Dean Knox (University of Pennsylvania)

Dean Knox is an assistant professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and a co-founder of Research on Policing Reform and Accountability. He develops statistical techniques to measure racial bias in policing, evaluate policing policy reforms, and improve the performance of policing organizations. He is an expert witness for the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. His broader research develops causal inference methods for imperfect data and machine-learning models for audiovisual data.

Travis Riddle (National Police Foundation)

Travis Riddle joined the National Police Foundation as a Data Scientist in October 2020. He has previously held positions at the National Institutes of Health, Princeton University, and Columbia University. He has methodological expertise in multilevel models, Bayesian inference, and text analysis. He has applied his skills to projects in education, health, media, and criminal justice, and is especially interested in the causes and consequences of group disparities in these domains. He earned a PhD in Psychology from Columbia University and a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from San Francisco State University.

Event Type


National Institute of Statistical Sciences


National Institute of Statistical Sciences


Registration is free.


Online Webinar
Moderator: Claire Kelling, (Penn State), Speakers: Robin Engel, (University of Cincinnati), Dean Knox, (U Penn), Travis Riddle, (National Police Foundation).