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Passenger Profiling, Imperfect Screening, and Airport Security


  • Nicola Persico

    () (Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)

  • Petra Todd

    () (Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania)


We present a theoretical model of airport searches. The model extends previous work in the area in that detection conditional on search is imperfect. The hit rates tests for racial bias developed in Knowles, Persico, and Todd (2001) is shown to apply even in the presence of imperfections in monitoring. We then study two channels for improving airport security: better targeting and better detection. We show that better targeting does not necessarily decrease the overall crime rate, although it will decrease crime in the group that is targeted. Improved detection rates unambiguously decrease crime. Group-specific improvements in detection do not necessarily increase the number of searches for those groups. The analysis is extended to allow for the possibility that criminal passengers disguise themselves as members of low-crime groups.

Suggested Citation

  • Nicola Persico & Petra Todd, 2005. "Passenger Profiling, Imperfect Screening, and Airport Security," PIER Working Paper Archive 05-005, Penn Institute for Economic Research, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania.
  • Handle: RePEc:pen:papers:05-005

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Rubén Hernández-Murillo & John Knowles, 2004. "Racial Profiling Or Racist Policing? Bounds Tests In Aggregate Data," International Economic Review, Department of Economics, University of Pennsylvania and Osaka University Institute of Social and Economic Research Association, vol. 45(3), pages 959-989, August.
    4. Nicola Persico & Petra Todd, 2004. "Using Hit Rate Tests to Test for Racial Bias in Law Enforcement: Vehicle Searches in Wichita," NBER Working Papers 10947, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. 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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    Cited by:

    1. Christopher Cotton & Cheng Li, 2015. "Profiling, Screening, and Criminal Recruitment," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 17(6), pages 964-985, December.
    2. Dragan Ilić, 2013. "Marginally discriminated: the role of outcome tests in European jurisdiction," European Journal of Law and Economics, Springer, vol. 36(2), pages 271-294, October.
    3. Staghøj, Jonas & Svarer, Michael & Rosholm, Michael, 2007. "A Statistical Programme Assignment Model," IZA Discussion Papers 3165, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    4. Stefanie Behncke & Markus Frölich & Michael Lechner, 2009. "Targeting Labour Market Programmes - Results from a Randomized Experiment," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 145(III), pages 221-268, September.
    5. Jonas Staghøj & Michael Svarer & Michael Rosholm, 2010. "Choosing the Best Training Programme: Is there a Case for Statistical Treatment Rules?," Oxford Bulletin of Economics and Statistics, Department of Economics, University of Oxford, vol. 72(2), pages 172-201, April.
    6. Dragan Ilić, 2013. "Spatial and Temporal Aggregation in Racial Profiling," Swiss Journal of Economics and Statistics (SJES), Swiss Society of Economics and Statistics (SSES), vol. 149(I), pages 27-56, March.

    More about this item


    Racial Profiling; Crime; Police; Airport; Terrorism;

    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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