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Can Racially Unbiased Police Perpetuate Long-Run Discrimination?

  • Bunzel, Helle
  • Marcoul, Philippe

We develop a stylized dynamic model of highway policing in which a non-racist police officer exhibits a cognitive bias: relative overconfidence. The officer is given incentives to arrest criminals but faces a per stop cost which increases when the racial mix of her stops differs from that of the population. Every period, she observes the racial composition of jail inmates (generated from arrests made by her peers) and forms estimates about the crime rates of each race. In some settings, her overconfidence leads her to overestimate the crime rate of one race relative to another causing the long-run racial composition of the jail population to deviate from the "fair" one (one where the racial mix in jails is identical to that in the criminal population). We compare this to a situation where officers have detailed stop data on each race, similar to data being currently collected in many US states.

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Paper provided by Iowa State University, Department of Economics in its series Staff General Research Papers with number 10200.

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Date of creation: 05 Mar 2003
Date of revision:
Publication status: Published in Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 2008, vol. 60 no. 1, pp. 36-47
Handle: RePEc:isu:genres:10200
Contact details of provider: Postal: Iowa State University, Dept. of Economics, 260 Heady Hall, Ames, IA 50011-1070
Phone: +1 515.294.6741
Fax: +1 515.294.0221
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  1. Rubén Hernández-Murillo & John Knowles, 2004. "Racial profiling or racist policing? bounds tests in aggregate data," Working Papers 2004-012, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
  2. Verdier, Thierry & Zenou, Yves, 2000. "Racial Beliefs, Location And The Causes Of Crime," CEPR Discussion Papers 2455, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Markus Glaser & Martin Weber, 1990. "Overconfidence and trading volume," The Geneva Risk and Insurance Review, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 32(1), pages 1-36, January.
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  5. Farmer, Amy & Terrell, Dek, 1996. "Discrimination, Bayesian Updating of Employer Beliefs and Human Capital Accumulation," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 34(2), pages 204-19, April.
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  8. Acemoglu, Daron, 1995. "Public Policy in a Model of Long-Term Unemployment," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 62(246), pages 161-78, May.
  9. Nicola Persico, 2002. "Racial Profiling, Fairness, and Effectiveness of Policing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1472-1497, December.
  10. Linda Babcock & George Loewenstein, 1997. "Explaining Bargaining Impasse: The Role of Self-Serving Biases," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 11(1), pages 109-126, Winter.
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  12. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:114:y:1999:i:1:p:37-82 is not listed on IDEAS
  13. Borooah, Vani K., 2001. "Racial bias in police stops and searches: an economic analysis," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 17(1), pages 17-37, March.
  14. Moro, Andrea & Norman, Peter, 2004. "A general equilibrium model of statistical discrimination," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 114(1), pages 1-30, January.
  15. 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.
  16. repec:tpr:qjecon:v:117:y:2002:i:3:p:871-915 is not listed on IDEAS
  17. Becker, Gary S., 1971. "The Economics of Discrimination," University of Chicago Press Economics Books, University of Chicago Press, edition 2, number 9780226041162.
  18. Lu�s Santos-Pinto & Joel Sobel, 2005. "A Model of Positive Self-Image in Subjective Assessments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(5), pages 1386-1402, December.
  19. Chakravarty, Shanti P., 2002. "Economic analysis of police stops and searches: a critique," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 597-605, September.
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