Justice is not blind: The role of race in law enforcement decisions and practices

2008 2008

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Abstract (summary)

Differential treatment of racial groups by members of law enforcement has energized research in a number of fields. The three papers in this dissertation employ three different methodologies and synthesize literatures from several fields to examine how the racial background of citizens who come into contact with the police may influence police decisions and behaviors.

The first study was a laboratory experiment designed to address a gap in the current research on racial bias in shooting decisions by including a measure of implicit racial attitudes to examine if it predicted bias. Both implicit and explicit measures of racial attitudes predicted simulated shooting mistakes when the target was black and unarmed; however, only the explicit measure marginally predicted overall racial bias in shooting latencies.

The second study was a secondary data analysis of self-report data from the nationally representative Police-Public Contact Survey. This study was designed to examine differences in how members of racial groups were treated during traffic stops. The finding replicated past research and found that Blacks and Hispanics were more likely than Whites to be searched, arrested, handcuffed, and given a ticket. White motorists were also more likely than minority motorists to receive only warnings.

The final field study examined how mandated video recording of certain felony interrogations affected legal outcomes, such as arrest, guilty pleas, and admissions/confessions at a pilot site. Preliminary results indicate that cases in which a custodial interrogation was recorded are more likely to result in charges and an increased percentage of guilty pleas. Another contribution of this study is the development of a coding protocol that can be used with a variety of police files to examine how characteristics like race of the protagonists may be related to interrogation practices and outcomes.

Together these studies suggest that there is a significant difference in how racial and ethnic minorities may be perceived and treated by members of law enforcement. I hope that the findings of these studies can stimulate future research and ultimately provide practical guidelines to law enforcement officials about where they might focus interventions and training to reduce biased treatment.

Indexing (details)

Social psychology;
Ethnic studies;
Law enforcement;
Criminal justice;
Decision making;
Minority & ethnic groups;
0451: Social psychology
0627: Criminology
0631: Ethnic studies
Identifier / keyword
Social sciences; Psychology; Implicit attitudes; Interrogation; Justice; Law enforcement; Race; Racial bias; Shooting decisions
Justice is not blind: The role of race in law enforcement decisions and practices
Knight, Katherine M.
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-B 70/01, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
Ellsworth, Phoebe C.
University of Michigan
University location
United States -- Michigan
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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