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A New Look at Racial Profiling: Evidence from the Boston Police Department

by Kate L. Antonovics and Brian G. Knight. Reading for Tuesday, 1 April 2008.

This paper provides new evidence on the role of preference-based versus statistical discrimination in racial profiling using a unique data set that includes the race of both the motorist and the officer. We build upon the model presented in Knowles, Persico and Todd (2001) and show that their test is not robust to alternative modelling assumptions. However, we also show that if statistical discrimination alone explains differences in the rate at which the vehicles of drivers of different races are searched, then, all else equal, search decisions should be independent of officer race. We then test this prediction using data from the Boston Police Department. Consistent with preference-based discrimination, our baseline results demonstrate that officers are more likely to conduct a search if the race of the officer differs from the race of the driver. We then investigate and rule out two alternative explanations for our findings: officers are better at searching members of their own racial group and the non-random assignment of officers to neighborhoods.

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