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An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force


  • Roland G. Fryer, Jr


This paper explores racial differences in police use of force. On non-lethal uses of force, blacks and Hispanics are more than fifty percent more likely to experience some form of force in interactions with police. Adding controls that account for important context and civilian behavior reduces, but cannot fully explain, these disparities. On the most extreme use of force – officer-involved shootings – we find no racial differences in either the raw data or when contextual factors are taken into account. We argue that the patterns in the data are consistent with a model in which police officers are utility maximizers, a fraction of which have a preference for discrimination, who incur relatively high expected costs of officer-involved shootings.

Suggested Citation

  • Roland G. Fryer, Jr, 2016. "An Empirical Analysis of Racial Differences in Police Use of Force," NBER Working Papers 22399, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:22399
    Note: LE LS POL

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Fryer Roland & Jackson Matthew O., 2008. "A Categorical Model of Cognition and Biased Decision Making," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 8(1), pages 1-44, February.
    2. 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.
    3. Coate, Stephen & Loury, Glenn, 1993. "Antidiscrimination Enforcement and the Problem of Patronization," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 92-98, May.
    4. Ridgeway, Greg & MacDonald, John M., 2009. "Doubly Robust Internal Benchmarking and False Discovery Rates for Detecting Racial Bias in Police Stops," Journal of the American Statistical Association, American Statistical Association, vol. 104(486), pages 661-668.
    5. Coate, Stephen & Loury, Glenn C, 1993. "Will Affirmative-Action Policies Eliminate Negative Stereotypes?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1220-1240, December.
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    Cited by:

    1. Esteban Aucejo & Jonathan James, 2017. "Catching Up to Girls: Understanding the Gender Imbalance in Educational Attainment Within Race," Working Papers 1701, California Polytechnic State University, Department of Economics.
    2. David Arnold & Will Dobbie & Crystal S. Yang, 2017. "Racial Bias in Bail Decisions," NBER Working Papers 23421, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Jones, Daniel B. & Troesken, Werner & Walsh, Randall, 2017. "Political participation in a violent society: The impact of lynching on voter turnout in the post-Reconstruction South," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 29-46.
    4. Harris, Timothy F. & Yelowitz, Aaron, 2018. "Racial climate and homeownership," Journal of Housing Economics, Elsevier, vol. 40(C), pages 41-72.
    5. Aucejo, Esteban & James, Jonathan, 2018. "Catching Up to Girls: Understanding the Gender Imbalance in Educational Attainment Within Race," CEPR Discussion Papers 13123, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. David Arnold & Will Dobbie & Crystal S. Yang, 2017. "Racial Bias in Bail Decisions," Working Papers 611, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
    7. Alexander, Adam C. & Chen, Weiyu & Ward, Kenneth D., 2018. "Is intelligence associated with mortality from lethal force by law enforcement?," Intelligence, Elsevier, vol. 70(C), pages 30-35.
    8. Amanda Geller, 2017. "Policing America's Children: Police Contact and Consequences Among Teens in Fragile Families," Working Papers wp18-02-ff, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Research on Child Wellbeing..
    9. Insler, Michael A. & McMurrey, Bryce & McQuoid, Alexander F., 2019. "From broken windows to broken bonds: Militarized police and social fragmentation," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 163(C), pages 43-62.
    10. Cody T. Ross & Bruce Winterhalder & Richard McElreath, 2018. "Resolution of apparent paradoxes in the race-specific frequency of use-of-force by police," Palgrave Communications, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 4(1), pages 1-9, December.
    11. Lundberg, Alexander, 2019. "Leniency Can Increase Deterrence," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(C).
    12. Ajilore, Olugbenga, 2017. "Is There a 1033 Effect? Police Militarization and Aggressive Policing," MPRA Paper 82543, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Olugbenga Ajilore, 2017. "Mental health, race, and deadly use of force," Economics Bulletin, AccessEcon, vol. 37(1), pages 423-428.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • K0 - Law and Economics - - General

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