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Measuring disparities in police activities: a state of the art review

Michael R. Smith (Center for Law and Human Behavior, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas, USA)
Jeff J. Rojek (Department of Criminal Justice, University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas, USA)
Matthew Petrocelli (Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Edwardsville, Illinois, USA)
Brian Withrow (Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 15 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to provide a contemporary review of the research on racial disparities in police decision making.


State of the art literature review.


The findings are mixed on racial disparities in the primary policing domains of stops, arrests, use of force, and neighborhood deployment. While minorities are often overrepresented among those subjected to police enforcement actions, these findings vary considerably. Almost all of the current studies that have reported racial disparities in the exercise of police authority lack the methodological rigor or statistical precision to draw cause and effect inferences.

Research limitations/implications

Efforts underway to document the impact of body-worn cameras on citizen complaints and force used by police could be extended to examine the impact of cameras on racial disparities in other enforcement-related outcomes such as arrests, stops and frisks, or searches. In addition, evaluating the effects of police training, such as anti-bias training or training on police legitimacy, on reducing racial disparities in police enforcement outcomes is another promising line of research inquiry.


This paper provides a concise review of the current state of the literature on a topic that is dominating the national conversation currently underway about the role of the police in American society.



Smith, M.R., Rojek, J.J., Petrocelli, M. and Withrow, B. (2017), "Measuring disparities in police activities: a state of the art review", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 40 No. 2, pp. 166-183.



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