A large-scale analysis of racial disparities in police stops across the United States

18 Jun 2017  ·  Emma Pierson, Camelia Simoiu, Jan Overgoor, Sam Corbett-Davies, Vignesh Ramachandran, Cheryl Phillips, Sharad Goel ·

To assess racial disparities in police interactions with the public, we compiled and analyzed a dataset detailing over 60 million state patrol stops conducted in 20 U.S. states between 2011 and 2015. We find that black drivers are stopped more often than white drivers relative to their share of the driving-age population, but that Hispanic drivers are stopped less often than whites. Among stopped drivers -- and after controlling for age, gender, time, and location -- blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be ticketed, searched, and arrested than white drivers. These disparities may reflect differences in driving behavior, and are not necessarily the result of bias. In the case of search decisions, we explicitly test for discrimination by examining both the rate at which drivers are searched and the likelihood searches turn up contraband. We find evidence that the bar for searching black and Hispanic drivers is lower than for searching whites. Finally, we find that legalizing recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado reduced the total number of searches and misdemeanors for all race groups, though a race gap still persists. We conclude by offering recommendations for improving data collection, analysis, and reporting by law enforcement agencies.

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