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Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence

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  • John Knowles
  • Nicola Persico
  • Petra Todd

Abstract

Police checking for illegal drugs are much more likely to search the vehicles of African-American motorists than those of white motorists. This paper develops a model of police and motorist behavior that suggests an empirical test for distinguishing whether this disparity is due to racial prejudice or to the police's objective to maximize arrests. When applied to vehicle search data from Maryland, our test results are consistent with the hypothesis of no racial prejudice against African-American motorists. However, if police have utility only for searches yielding large drug finds, then our analysis would suggest bias against white drivers. The model's prediction regarding nonrace characteristics is also largely supported by the data.
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Suggested Citation

  • John Knowles & Nicola Persico & Petra Todd, "undated". "Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence," Penn CARESS Working Papers 5940d5c4875c571776fb29700, Penn Economics Department.
  • Handle: RePEc:cla:penntw:5940d5c4875c571776fb29700ee47a37
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    File URL: http://www.econ.upenn.edu/Centers/CARESS/
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. George J. Stigler, 1974. "The Optimum Enforcement of Laws," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 55-67 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Kim C. Border & Joel Sobel, 1987. "Samurai Accountant: A Theory of Auditing and Plunder," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 54(4), pages 525-540.
    4. 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 739-760, October.
    5. Scotchmer, Suzanne, 1987. "Audit Classes and Tax Enforcement Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(2), pages 229-233, May.
    6. 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.
    7. Kenneth Arrow, 1971. "The Theory of Discrimination," Working Papers 403, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    8. Scott Smart & Joel Waldfogel, 1996. "A Citation-Based Test for Discrimination at Economics and Finance Journals," NBER Working Papers 5460, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • 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

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