A New Look at Racial Profiling: Evidence from the Boston Police Department

42 Pages Posted: 4 Aug 2004 Last revised: 24 Jul 2010

See all articles by Kate Antonovics

Kate Antonovics

University of California, San Diego

Brian G. Knight

Brown University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: July 2004


This paper provides new evidence on the role of preference-based versus statistical discrimination in racial profiling using a unique data set that includes the race of both the driver and the officer. We first generalize the model presented in Knowles, Persico and Todd (2001) and show that the fundamental insight that allows them to distinguish between statistical discrimination and preference-based discrimination depends on the specialized shapes of the best response functions in their model. Thus, the test that they employ is not robust to a range of alternative modeling assumptions. However, we also show that if statistical discrimination alone explains differences in the rate at which the vehicles of drivers of different races are searched, then search decisions should be independent of officer race. We then test this prediction using data from the Boston Police Department. Consistent with preference-based discrimination, our baseline results demonstrate that officers are more likely to conduct a search if the race of the officer differs from the race of the driver. We then investigate and rule out two alternative explanations for our findings: race-based informational asymmetries between officers and the assignment of officers to neighborhoods.

Suggested Citation

Antonovics, Kate and Knight, Brian G., A New Look at Racial Profiling: Evidence from the Boston Police Department (July 2004). NBER Working Paper No. w10634. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=565845

Kate Antonovics

University of California, San Diego ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0508
La Jolla, CA 92093-0502
United States
858-534-2973 (Phone)

Brian G. Knight (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Economics ( email )

64 Waterman Street
Providence, RI 02912
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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