ectbd - On The Observational Implications of Taste-Based...

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On The Observational Implications of Taste-Based Discrimination in Racial Profiling William A. Brock, Jane Cooley, Steven N. Durlauf and Salvador Navarro January 30, 2010 Department of Economics, University of Wisconsin at Madison. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation grant SES-0518274 and the University of Wisconsin Vilas Trust, University of Wisconsin Graduate School, Institute for Research on Poverty, and Laurits Christensen Chair in Economics. We thank Xiangrong Yu and Yu Zhu for excellent research assistance. This paper was prepared for the festschrift volume in honor of Charles Manski and is written in his honor.
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1 1. Introduction Minorities are generally subject to higher rates of policing, such as automobile or pedestrian stops, than whites. For instance, Ridgeway (2007) reports that 87 percent of stops of the New York police department in 2006 were nonwhite, and 51 percent of these were black. These differentials are often referred to as racial profiling. Racial profiling has generated and continues to generate an active scholarly literature because differential treatment by police officers (often measured as stop or search rates) can stem from a range of factors, not all of which correspond to what is commonly understood as discrimination. A central difficulty in the study of racial bias stems from the fact that the police officer is likely to have more information about the potential guilt of suspects than the analyst. This makes it difficult to attribute racial disparities in police treatment of potential criminals to discrimination. From a policy perspective, this distinction is likely to be very important, as racial disparities that result from optimal (or productive) policing may be less of a concern than disparities that result from discrimination. In this paper, we examine the challenges to identifying discrimination in police behavior in observational data. For our purposes, we equate discrimination with Becker’s (1957) notion of taste- based discrimination (or racial prejudice). As originally argued in Knowles, Persico and Todd (2001), which we subsequently denote as KPT, and recently reviewed in Persico (2009) differential treatment of blacks and whites does not imply the presence of taste- based discrimination. The objective functions of police could be race neutral yet produce differential equilibrium search rates by race. 1 This has spurred a literature on the potential to detect taste-based discrimination using outcome data (such as arrest rates), a prominent example of which is a recent Rand study (Ridgeway, 2007), of pedestrian stops in New York City. 1 This latter differential may be attributed to statistical discrimination. Our focus on taste- based discrimination does not imply a justification for statistical discrimination; in fact the ethics of statistical discrimination have been challenged by Harcourt (2004) and Sklansky (2008); see Risse and Zeckhauser (2004) for a defense. However, all of these positions recognize an ethical distinction between taste-based discrimination and statistical discrimination and hence the importance of empirically distinguishing them.
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