Administrative Records Mask Racially Biased Policing

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.