Racial bias in motor vehicle searches: Theory and evidence

J. Knowles*, N. Persico, P. Todd

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

266 Scopus citations

Abstract

Police checking for illegal drugs are much more likely to search the vehicles of African-American motorists than those of white motorists. This paper develops a model of police and motorist behavior that suggests an empirical test for distinguishing whether this disparity is due to racial prejudice or to the police's objective to maximize arrests. When applied to vehicle search data from Maryland, our test results are consistent with the hypothesis of no racial prejudice against African-American motorist. Howver, if police have utility only for searches yielding large drug finds, then our analysis would suggest bias against white drivers. The model's prediction regarding nonrace characteristics is also largely supported by the data.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)203-229
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Political Economy
Volume109
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics

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