Administrative Records Mask Racially Biased Policing

By Dean Knox, Will Lowe, and Jonathan Mummolo. American Political Science Review. 2020.

Researchers often lack the necessary data to credibly estimate racial discrimination in policing. In particular, police administrative records lack information on civilians police observe but do not investigate.

In this article, we show that if police racially discriminate when choosing whom to investigate, analyses using administrative records to estimate racial discrimination in police behavior are statistically biased, and many quantities of interest are unidentified – even among investigated individuals – absent strong and untestable assumptions.

Using principal stratification in a causal mediation framework, we derive the exact form of the statistical bias that results from traditional estimation. We develop a bias-correction procedure and nonparametric sharp bounds for race effects, replicate published findings, and show the traditional estimator can severely underestimate levels of racially based policing or mask discrimination entirely.

We conclude by outlining a general and feasible design for future studies that is robust to this inferential snare.

Click here to read the full paper.

Click here to access replication data.