Racial/Ethnic Breakdown

Racial/Ethnic Breakdown

SPOTLITE includes any incident where police use firearms—including those with non-fatal outcomes—as well as any other use of force that results in a death.



SPOTLITE assesses a person’s ascribed racial and ethnic characteristics based on the person’s image and name alone. SPOTLITE provides ascribed racial and ethnic characteristics generated from the perceptions of third-party observers using only name and image information because this is likely to be the kind of information available to law enforcement personnel encountering a civilian on the street.

The Systematic Policing Oversight Through Lethal-force Incident Tracking Environment (SPOTLITE) is a project of the Cline Center for Advanced Social Research at the University of Illinois. Since 2017, multiple SPOTLITE research teams involving professional research staff, faculty subject-matter experts, and student researchers have been working to develop better ways to capture highest-quality data about police uses of lethal force in the United States using transparent methods. SPOTLITE is the result of that collective effort.

  • SPOTLITE relies on a limited number of standard categories for classifying racial and ethnic characteristics that reflect Office of Management and Budget guidelines used by the US Census Bureau and other federal agencies.

  • To improve comparability, our approach follows a common practice among law enforcement agencies of combining ethnicity with race into a single set of categories. SPOTLITE uses a five-category racial/ethnic typology (Native American, White, Black, Asian or Asian Pacific Islander, and Hispanic or Latino) and a three-category typology (White, Black, and Other).

  • The SPOTLITE registry documents ascribed racial and ethnic characteristics rather than self-identified racial or ethnic characteristics. By “ascribed” we mean externally-perceived characteristics that can be assessed by third-party observers. Racial disparities can be challenging to measure in lethal force incidents involving police, and this difficulty is a major reason why such data are not already widely available. Race is also a multidimensional construct that encompasses a person’s own subjective racial or ethnic identities as well as how other persons perceive that person’s identities. Because civilians often die in lethal force events, collecting data on subjective identities with high levels of validity becomes impossible. In contrast, ascribed racial and ethnic characteristics can be assessed more consistently based on image and name information alone.

  • SPOTLITE likely underrepresents the number of Hispanics and Latinos in the data, largely due to miscategorizing people as White or Black who may identify as Hispanic or Latino.

  • SPOTLITE likely underrepresents the number of Native Americans and Alaska Natives in the data, largely due to underreporting in news coverage and the potential miscategorization of Native Americans or Alaska Natives into other categories.

  • SPOTLITE only records one racial/ethnic category per individual.

  • Many individuals cannot be reliably classified using ascribed characteristics alone.

  • Numbers will change as we develop new information.

For more details on how the data were constructed, see the About the Data section of this website.

Infographic for the Racial/Ethnic Breakdown Dashboard   

Infographic for the Racial/Ethnic Breakdown Dashboard

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