This article reviews the recent theoretical and empirical literature in economics that aims to establish empirically whether police engage in racially biased law enforcement practices. It considers different objective functions that might be posited for police officers and the tests that can be derived under these objectives. Assuming a hit rate objective function leads to a simple, empirically implementable outcomes-based test that can potentially explain an observed empirical regularity in many police data-sets whereby disparities in hit rates tend to be very small despite large disparities in search rates.
KeywordsDeterrence Omitted-variable bias Optimal auditing Racial profiling Rational expectations Statistical discrimination
I am grateful to Steven Durlauf, Hanming Fang and Nicola Persico for helpful discussions.
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