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Using Hit Rate Tests to Test for Racial Bias in Law Enforcement: Vehicle Searches in Wichita

  • Nicola Persico
  • Petra Todd

This paper considers the use of outcomes-based tests for detecting racial bias in the context of police searches of motor vehicles. It shows that the test proposed in Knowles, Persico and Todd (2001) can also be applied in a more general environment where police officers are heterogenous in their tastes for discrimination and in their costs of search and motorists are heterogeneous in their benefits and costs from criminal behavior. We characterize the police and motorist decision problems in a game theoretic framework and establish properties of the equilibrium. We also extend the model to the case where drivers' characteristics are mutable in the sense that drivers can adapt some of their characteristics to reduce the probability of being monitored. After developing the theory that justifies the application of outcomes-based tests, we apply the tests to data on police searches of motor vehicles gathered by the Wichita Police deparment. The empirical findings are consistent with the notion that police in Wichita choose their search strategies to maximize successful searches, and not out of racial bias.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10947.

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Date of creation: Dec 2004
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10947
Note: LS LE
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  1. Charles F. Manski, 2005. "Search Profiling with Partial Knowledge of Deterrence," NBER Working Papers 11848, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. John Knowles & Nicola Persico & Petra Todd, . "Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence," Penn CARESS Working Papers 5940d5c4875c571776fb29700, Penn Economics Department.
  3. Shamena Anwar & Hanming Fang, 2006. "An Alternative Test of Racial Prejudice in Motor Vehicle Searches: Theory and Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(1), pages 127-151, March.
  4. Kate Antonovics & Brian G. Knight, 2009. "A New Look at Racial Profiling: Evidence from the Boston Police Department," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 91(1), pages 163-177, February.
  5. Dharmapala Dhammika & Ross Stephen L, 2004. "Racial Bias in Motor Vehicle Searches: Additional Theory and Evidence," The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, De Gruyter, vol. 3(1), pages 1-23, September.
  6. Nicola Persico, 2002. "Racial Profiling, Fairness, and Effectiveness of Policing," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 92(5), pages 1472-1497, December.
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