Police Discretion and Racial Disparity in Organized Retail Theft Arrests: Evidence from Texas

42 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2017 Last revised: 27 Aug 2018

See all articles by Michael Braun

Michael Braun

Southern Methodist University (SMU) - Marketing Department

Jeremy Rosenthal

Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC

Kyle Therrian

Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: July 17, 2018

Abstract

When definitions of two distinct criminal offenses overlap, power to decide which definition to apply to an arrest devolves to local law enforcement agencies. This discretion can lead to unequal treatment and denial of due process, especially when disadvantaged populations are arrested for nonviolent property crimes. We present a Bayesian analysis of arrests under a vaguely worded statutory scheme for retail theft in Texas, in which a shoplifter who is guilty of property theft is also guilty of organized retail theft. Using arrest data from the Texas Department of Public Safety, we find wide variation across law enforcement agencies in initial charging categories, with black and Hispanic arrestees being charged for the more serious crime more than white arrestees. The racial discrepancy is greater for agencies serving cities with higher per-capita income. These results highlight consequences of ambiguous provisions of criminal codes, and suggest a method for identifying agencies whose policies may have disparate impact across racial and ethnic groups.

Keywords: Selective Enforcement, Police Discretion, Residual Clause, Shoplifting, Criminal History, Pretrial Detention, Overcharging, Plea Bargaining

JEL Classification: K14, M31, Z13, C11

Suggested Citation

Braun, Michael and Rosenthal, Jeremy and Therrian, Kyle, Police Discretion and Racial Disparity in Organized Retail Theft Arrests: Evidence from Texas (July 17, 2018). SMU Cox School of Business Research Paper No. 18-3. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2959076 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2959076

Michael Braun (Contact Author)

Southern Methodist University (SMU) - Marketing Department ( email )

United States

Jeremy Rosenthal

Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC ( email )

4500 Eldorado Pkwy, Ste 3000
McKinney, TX 75070
United States

Kyle Therrian

Rosenthal & Wadas, PLLC ( email )

4500 Eldorado Pkwy, Ste 3000
McKinney, TX 75070
United States

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