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Searching for Efficient Enforcement: Officer Characteristics and Racially Biased Policing

  • Close Billy R

    (Florida State University)

  • Mason Patrick Leon

    (Florida State University)

This study empirically investigates whether racial and ethnic differences in police searches of stopped drivers reflect efficient enforcement or biased policing. Null hypotheses consistent with efficient enforcement are derived from alternative assumptions regarding police objectives: 1) police seek to maximize public safety, and 2) police seek to maximize the hit rate. We use both an outcomes-based non-parametric analysis and a standard benchmarking parametric approach (regression analysis). Both approaches yield the same results: law enforcement officers display both personal and police cultural bias in their propensity to search African American and Latino drivers. African American and Latino status tends to lower the guilt signal required for police suspicion. Further, white officers police differently than their African American and Latino colleagues. White officers are 73 percent of the sworn police force, conduct 88 percent of the searches, and have a hit rate of 20 percent. Latino officers are 11 percent of the sworn labor force, conduct 8 percent of the searches, and have a hit rate of 24 percent. African American officers are 15 percent of the sworn labor force, conduct 4 percent of the searches, and have a hit rate of 26 percent. The preferential treatment of white drivers by police is attenuated with increases in the fraction of racial and ethnic minority residents in the county where the stop occurred.

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Article provided by De Gruyter in its journal Review of Law & Economics.

Volume (Year): 3 (2007)
Issue (Month): 2 (September)
Pages: 263-321

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Handle: RePEc:bpj:rlecon:v:3:y:2007:i:2:n:5
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