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Consent searches: understanding the role of race and what occurs during the traffic stop

Anthony G. Vito (Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology, College of Sciences and Humanities, Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana, USA)
Elizabeth L. Grossi (Department of Criminal Justice, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA)
Vanessa Woodward Griffin (Department of Criminology, University of West Georgia, Carrollton, Georgia, USA)
George E. Higgins (University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky, USA)

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 13 February 2019

Issue publication date: 22 July 2019

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to apply focal concerns theory as a theoretical explanation for police officer decision making during a traffic stop that results in a consent search. The study uses coefficients testing to better examine the issue of racial profiling through the use of a race-specific model.

Design/methodology/approach

The data for this study come from traffic stops conducted by the Louisville Police Department between January 1 and December 31, 2002.

Findings

The results show that the three components of focal concerns theory can explain police officer decision making for consent searches. Yet, the components of focal concerns theory play a greater role in stops of Caucasian male drivers.

Research limitations/implications

The data for this study are cross-sectional and self-reported from police officers.

Practical implications

This paper shows the utility of applying focal concerns theory as a theoretical explanation for police officer decision making on consent searches and how the effects of focal concerns vary depending on driver race.

Social implications

The findings based on focal concerns theory can provide an opportunity for police officers or departments to explain what factors impact the decision making during consent searches.

Originality/value

This is the first study (to the researchers’ knowledge) that examines the racial effects of focal concerns on traffic stop consent searchers using coefficients testing.

Keywords

Citation

Vito, A.G., Grossi, E.L., Woodward Griffin, V. and Higgins, G.E. (2019), "Consent searches: understanding the role of race and what occurs during the traffic stop", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 42 No. 4, pp. 611-623. https://doi.org/10.1108/PIJPSM-11-2018-0162

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited