Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence
AbstractAfrican- American motorist in the United States are much more likely than white motorists to have their car searched by police checking for illegal drugs and other contraband. The courts are faced with the task of deciding on the basis of traffic-search data whether police behavior reflects a rackial bias. We discuss why a simple test for racial bias commonly applied by the courts is inadequate and develop a model of law enforcement that suggests an alternative test. The model assumes a population with two racial types who also differ along other dimensions relevant to criminal behavior. Using the model, we construct a test for whether racial disparities in motor vehicle searches reflect racial prejudice, or instead are consistent with the behavior of non-prejudiced police maximizing drug interdiction. The test is valid even when the set of characteristics observed by the police is only partially observable by the econometrician. We apply the test to traffic-search data from Maryland and find the observed black-white disparities in search rates to be consistent with the hypothesis of no racial prejudice. Finally, we present a simple analysis of the tradeoff between efficiency of drug interdiction and racial fairness in policing. We show that in some circumstances there is no trade-off; constraining the police to be color-blind may achieve greater efficiency in drug interdiction.
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 7449.
Date of creation: Dec 1999
Date of revision:
Note: LS PE
Contact details of provider:
Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
Web page: http://www.nber.org
More information through EDIRC
Other versions of this item:
- John Knowles & Nicola Persico & Petra Todd, 2001. "Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(1), pages 203-232, February.
- John Knowles & Nicola Persico & Petra Todd, . ""Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence''," CARESS Working Papres 99-06, University of Pennsylvania Center for Analytic Research and Economics in the Social Sciences.
- John Knowles & Nicola Persico & Petra Todd, . "Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence," Penn CARESS Working Papers 5940d5c4875c571776fb29700, Penn Economics Department.
- J70 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Labor Discrimination - - - General
- K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Gary S. Becker, 1974.
"Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach,"
in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54
National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Scotchmer, Suzanne, 1987. "Audit Classes and Tax Enforcement Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(2), pages 229-33, May.
- Reinganum, Jennifer F & Wilde, Louis L, 1986. "Equilibrium Verification and Reporting Policies in a Model of Tax Compliance," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 27(3), pages 739-60, October.
- Stigler, George J, 1970.
"The Optimum Enforcement of Laws,"
Journal of Political Economy,
University of Chicago Press, vol. 78(3), pages 526-36, May-June.
- Border, Kim C & Sobel, Joel, 1987. "Samurai Accountant: A Theory of Auditing and Plunder," Review of Economic Studies, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 54(4), pages 525-40, October.
- John J. Donohue III & Steven D. Levitt, 1998. "The Impact of Race on Policing, Arrest Patterns, and Crime," NBER Working Papers 6784, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
This item has more than 25 citations. To prevent cluttering this page, these citations are listed on a separate page. reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.Access and download statisticsgeneral information about how to correct material in RePEc.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.