Cuyahoga County and The Cleveland Police Force: The Correlation between Income and the Use of Deadly Force

by Letters 4 the Damned

Cuyahoga County and The Cleveland Police Force: The Correlation between Income and the Use of Deadly Force


On November 22nd of 2014 12 year-old Tamir Brown was killed by a Cleveland police officer for holding a BB gun at a local park in Cleveland. The officer who fired the shots had been previously let go from the suburban Independence Police Force for “dangerous loss of composure during live range training and his inability to manage this personal stress” (Barajas, 2014). Cleveland City Councilman Jeffrey Johnson stated “there is something fundamentally broken in our system when a young man can have a legal BB gun, and by the end of that day be killed by a Cleveland police officer” (Strochlic, 2014). A one-year investigation by the Department of Justice into the Cleveland Police Department concluded not too long after the Tamir Rice incident. Attorney General Eric Holder explained at a press conference “The thorough and independent review, which spanned more than a year and a half, concluded that officers engaged in unnecessary use of deadly force, including shootings and head strikes, and used excessive force against people who were mentally ill and in crisis… some of the officers’ search and seizures…violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The department examined nearly 600 use-of-force incidents that occurred between 2010 and 2013” (Richinik, 2014). The objective of this study was to try and discover if this deadly use of force was more likely to occur in low-income areas. Due to lack of data on police shootings many have begun to crowd source such data in an attempt to shine light on this national problem. Utilizing crowd sourced data; information on income from NEOCANDO, and geographic information from the U.S. Census Bureau, along with violent crime rates in the Cleveland area, the study concluded that income does have a correlation with a higher use of deadly force by the Cleveland Police Department.

Similar Studies

Several studies have been conducted on race and police violence. However, less has been conducted in regards to income. In 1979 an empirical study was conducted to examine use of deadly force and inequality. The study “found that the police were most likely to use deadly force in the most unequal states” (Britt & Jacobs, 403). The large majority of other studies are focused on race, such as Goldkamp’s study (1976) on minorities as victims of police shootings. However, additional findings from Goldkamp’s study did show “that the lowest income groups (regardless of race) were the most highly victimized segments of society” (Goldkamp, 169). Recent studies are hard to find suggesting that much more research needs to be done on the subject. The location from which the data was obtained, TheseAreWaters, did conduct a study using the data. However, the majority of the study was focused on demographics such as race and did not address income. As the issue becomes more and more a national concern effective solutions will require the insight offered by scientific analysis. This study aims to analyze income as it relates to the use of deadly force. The following map shows police shootings in Cuyahoga County from 1999 to 2014.[1]

The geolocation of police shootings in Cuyahoga County reveals a high concentration of shootings within the city of Cleveland with few taking place in the outer suburbs. This concentration was established further when selecting points within the city of Cleveland. Analysis revealed that 31 out of 34 cases of deadly force that occurred within the county happened in the city of Cleveland. In comparison to shootings across the entire U.S. Cleveland comprised 2.7 percent of shootings. 31 out of 34 cases of deadly force in Cuyahoga County occurred within the city of Cleveland. Since 1999, 31 out of 1144 cases in the U.S. occurred in the city of Cleveland.

The next step of the analysis was to map the median household income in Cuyahoga County by census tract. The analysis revealed that the majority of census tracts within the city of Cleveland had an average median household income below $40,000. The 2014 absolute poverty line for households with 3 people is $19,790. Areas below or near this income range are marked by the dark red color on the map. The poverty line for households of 6 is $31,970. These areas are marked by yellow. The poverty line for households of 8 is $ 40,090, areas below this income range are marked by the bright green coloring on the map (Department of Health and Human Services, 2014). Analysis of income ranges shows that while the large majority of census tracts within the city of Cleveland have median household incomes below $40,000 the outer suburbs have majority income ranges between $40,000 to $100,000 dollars with approximately 16 census tracts with incomes above $100,000. The next step was to overlay the police shootings with median household income.

Analysis of the overlay and coinciding table above shows significant correlations with income. Out of 34 cases more than half (18) occurred in neighborhoods where the median household income was below $30,000 a year. Less than one-third of all cases occurred in neighborhoods with a median household income between $30,000 and $40,000. The single case that occurred in the neighborhood with a $50,000 plus annual household income was a high outlier. The incident occurred within a census tract with an annual household income of approximately $111,000.

A ½ mile buffer around sites of deadly force reveals that approximately 23 sites of deadly force occurred within at least a ½ mile of one other site. This could point to poor policing in certain communities or may occur as a result of increased crime rates, assuming such shootings are justified. In consideration of the commonly established causation of poverty to crime the following map displays the number of cases of violent crimes per 100,000 residents by census tract. The following map displays violent crime rates in the city of Cleveland.

The majority of census tracts near sites of deadly force contained higher rates of violent crime than census tracts near the boundaries of the city of Cleveland. Approximately 21 deaths occurred in communities with 1,001 – 4,000 violent crimes per 100,000 residents. The remaining 13 sites within the county were dispersed among the remaining ranges.


The findings of this study are that there is a significant correlation between income and use of deadly force by police. Further studies should be undertaken to discover if there may be causation between the two variables. The concentration of incidences in areas with less than $30,000 median household income could indicate poorer training, relaxed hiring standards, lack of oversight and/or racial and economic bias. Several other studies on police violence have found race to be a critical component. This study aimed to understand such violence from a conflict perspective. The absence of deadly force in high income and suburban communities of Cuyahoga County suggests further that use of deadly force has a class component. Additional studies exploring the violent crime rates around these sites and details of the individual cases will help reveal how strong of a relationship there is between violent crime rates and use of deadly force in Cuyahoga County.

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– Christopher Kolezynski