The Social Cost of a Racially Targeted Police Encounter

23 Pages Posted: 8 Aug 2017 Last revised: 3 Aug 2018

See all articles by Mark A. Cohen

Mark A. Cohen

Vanderbilt University - Strategy and Business Economics; Vanderbilt University - Law School; Resources for the Future

Date Written: March 31, 2017


This paper identifies the individual components of social harm associated with a hypothetical racially motivated police encounter. An individual who believes they are being targeted by police because they are a member of a racial minority may suffer from fear of physical harm and humiliation by the encounter itself. However, the very fact that individuals will be racially targeted for a police encounter also causes harm to other members of the minority group even if they are not directly subject to an unwarranted encounter. In addition to fear and anxiety over the risk of such an encounter, they will often undertake costly avoidance behaviors to reduce their risk, or to mitigate the risk of any physical harm if such an encounter occurs. In addition, other members of society who value a nondiscriminatory policing policy might be willing to pay to reduce such unwarranted police encounters, and hence suffer a loss from this policing policy. In addition to discussing possible methodologies for estimating these cost components, this paper raises some important issues that must be resolved – such as how to deal with the difference between perceived and actual racially motivated police encounters.

Keywords: Racial Targeting, Police Practices, Social Cost of Discrimination

JEL Classification: K14, J15

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Mark A., The Social Cost of a Racially Targeted Police Encounter (March 31, 2017). Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management Research Paper No. 3015035, Available at SSRN: or

Mark A. Cohen (Contact Author)

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