Sociology Researcher Gets Grant for Police Shootings Study

Photo of gun in holster on the hip of a police officer
A UC Davis sociologist is studying how the organizational structure and policies of law enforcement agencies influence their rates of officer-involved shootings. (GWilber/Creative Commons)

Research looks at roles of departments’ organization and use-of-force policies.

Portrait photo of UC Davis sociologist who studies police shootings
Matthew Thompson

Sociology doctoral candidate Matthew Thompson has received a $25,000 grant from the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research to complete his dissertation on police shootings.

Thompson’s research focuses on how the organizational structure of police agencies and their use-of-force policies influence their rates of officer-involved shootings.

He is one of four graduate students nationwide — and 17 researchers overall — to receive a total of $9.8 million from the collaborative in its first round of grants.

Filling a gun research gap

The National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research was established with private donations to help fill a void in funding for research on gun violence and gun policies. Public grants have shriveled since 1996, when Congress passed restrictions on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use of federal funds to promote gun control.

“America needs evidence-based answers on the causes of gun violence and how to prevent it,” collaborative director Andrew Morral said in announcing the grants in late July. “These research projects, selected first and foremost for their rigor, will generate evidence for informing policy that protects the public and preserves the rights of responsible gun owners.”

With funding from the UC Firearms Research Center, Thompson has collected use-of-force policies from 400 police and sheriff’s departments in California, as well as 100 large metropolitan police departments across the country.

Thompson is also using U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics police department survey data to compare agencies’ staffing, salaries, supervision and other organizational factors with their rates of officer-involved shootings.

The new grant will enable him to focus this year on analyzing the data and writing his dissertation on his findings.

This award comes at a critical time for both me personally and for speaking to important issues on police use of force and gun violence.”

Two UC Davis awards

Thompson was one of two UC Davis researchers to receive grants from the collaborative. Rose Kagawa, an assistant professor of emergency medicine, was awarded $612,674 to study the effectiveness of comprehensive background check and permit-to-purchase policies in reducing firearm crimes.

Arnold Ventures, a philanthropic organization based in Houston, Texas, provided the initial funding for the National Collaborative on Gun Violence Research grants. The collaborative is administered by the Rand Corp., a nonprofit, nonpartisan, public policy organization based in Santa Monica.

Read an overview of Thompson’s research proposal, “Deadly Decisions: Policing Organizations, Use of Force Policies, and Officer-Involved Shootings.”

— Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science