The Past as Prologue: Police Stops and Legacies of Complaints About Neighborhood Police Misconduct

Bill McCarthy*, John Hagan, Daniel Herda, Wesley G. Skogan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Quantitative analyses show that police stop and frisks are highly concentrated by neighborhood. Interview and ethnographic studies show that police routinely share information about neighborhood attributes including crime rates and demographic characteristics such as racial and ethnic composition and economic conditions. Investigations suggest that police also share information about complaints against them. Our analysis bridges these three literatures and examines whether a neighborhood's historical and contemporary complaints about police mistreatment are a significant source of police stops. Our research focuses on complaints and stops in Chicago. We find that stops are more frequent in neighborhoods where historical and contemporary complaints are high, as well as in communities with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged, Hispanic, and especially Black residents. We find that these associations hold net of potential sources of spuriousness, including prior police stops and crime. Police perceptions of the race of the person stopped contextualize the relationships between stops and complaints: they are exacerbated for people the police identified as Black. Our findings suggest that complaints and the narratives they engender may be enduring systemic sources of bias in police behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalRace and Justice
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Chicago
  • narratives
  • police complaints
  • police stops
  • race and policing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Law


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