The Bias Is Built In: How Administrative Records Mask Racially Biased Policing

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See all articles by Dean Knox

Dean Knox

Princeton University

Will Lowe

Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Jonathan Mummolo

Princeton University

Date Written: February 18, 2019

Abstract

Researchers often lack the necessary data to credibly estimate racial bias in policing. In particular, police administrative records lack information on civilians that police observe but do not investigate. In this paper, we show that if police racially discriminate when choosing whom to investigate, using administrative records to estimate racial bias in police behavior amounts to post-treatment conditioning, and renders many quantities of interest unidentified---even among investigated individuals---absent strong and untestable assumptions. In most cases, no set of controls can eliminate this statistical bias, the exact form of which we derive through principal stratification in a causal mediation framework. We develop a bias-correction procedure and nonparametric sharp bounds for race effects, replicate published findings, and show traditional estimation techniques can severely underestimate levels of racially biased policing or even mask discrimination entirely. We conclude by outlining a general and feasible design for future studies that is robust to this inferential snare.

Keywords: racial bias, policing, use of force, causal inference

Suggested Citation

Knox, Dean and Lowe, Will and Mummolo, Jonathan, The Bias Is Built In: How Administrative Records Mask Racially Biased Policing (February 18, 2019). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=

Dean Knox

Princeton University ( email )

001 Fisher Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544
United States

Will Lowe

Princeton University - Department of Political Science

Fisher Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1012
United States

Jonathan Mummolo (Contact Author)

Princeton University ( email )

22 Chambers Street
Princeton, NJ 08544-0708
United States

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