A Behavioural Theory of Discrimination in Policing

Joint with Andrew T. Little.

2023. Economic Journal. Volume 133, Number 655, pp. 2828–2843.

A large economic literature studies whether racial disparities in policing are explained by animus or by beliefs about group crime rates. But what if these beliefs are incorrect? We analyse a model where officers form beliefs using crime statistics, but don’t properly account for the fact that they will detect more crime in more heavily policed communities. This creates a feedback loop where officers over-police groups that they (incorrectly) believe exhibit high crime rates. This inferential mistake can exacerbate discrimination even among officers with no animus and who sincerely believe disparities are driven by real differences in crime rates.

Selected Presentations: Conference on Political Economy and Public Law (June 2019, Princeton), APSA Conference (September 2019, Washington DC), SPSA Conference (January 2020, San Juan, Puerto Rico), Conference on New Approaches to Discrimination Research (June 2021, U. Chicago), and Seminars at Berkeley, U. Chicago, Oxford, Pittsburg, Stanford, Wash. U., and USC

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