Social Segregation, Inter-Group Contact and Discriminatory Policing

Joint with Andrew T. Little.

We analyze a formal model of policing where officers decide how to interact with members of two social groups, both while working and while socializing. The officers do not fully distinguish between their experiences of crime across these two contexts (“coarse thinking”), so they end up with excessively positive views of groups they socialize with and excessively negative views of those they police. This creates dual feedback loops as officers choose to socialize more with groups they view favorably and over-police those they view as “more criminal.” Policy interventions that increase positive contact with an overpoliced group can mitigate the officer’s discriminatory policing. However, this beneficial effect only persists if the policy intervention creates sustained positive contact. Our results provide a novel theoretical microfoundation for the contact hypothesis, and help explain why the effects of many policy interventions aimed at increasing positive contact are short-lived.

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