Effect of suspect race on officers’ arrest decisions’

Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 8 November 2011



Grothoff, G. (2011), "Effect of suspect race on officers’ arrest decisions’", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 34 No. 4. https://doi.org/10.1108/pijpsm.2011.18134daa.003



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Effect of suspect race on officers’ arrest decisions’

Effect of suspect race on officers’ arrest decisions’

Article Type: Perspectives on policing From: Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, Volume 34, Issue 4

Tammy Rinehart Kochel, David B. Wilson, and Stephen D. MastrofskiCriminology2011Vol. 49pp. 473-512

This article assesses the research on police bias against minorities. Kochel, Wilson, and Mastrofski (2011) identify the effect of race on a police officer’s decision to arrest as a critical area of study that has yielded contradictory results. Their goal is twofold. First, to determine, from these mixed results, whether race influences the police’s decision to arrest, and then fill a knowledge gap by synthesizing the extant research.

The authors conduct a meta-analysis that examines 27 independent data sets for the relationship between race and the likelihood of arrest. This study focuses on the odds of arrest only and not statistical significance of the findings. The data came from research journals (published and unpublished) and government documents. The research design has four criteria for inclusion:

  1. 1.

    Micro-level data.

  2. 2.

    Arrest versus a lesser alternative was the dependent variable.

  3. 3.

    Race was an independent variable in at least one analysis.

  4. 4.

    The citizen was present during the police/citizen encounter.

The geographic location is restricted to the US. The included studies range from 1966 to 2004. Kochel et al. (2011) hypothesize that being a minority will increase the odds of arrest.

Overall, the most important finding shows that compared to whites, minorities experience higher odds of arrest on average of a 30 percent greater chance. These findings give a better representation of the literature measuring racial influences on arrest. However, Kochel et al. (2011) contend that their results do not show the cause of this disparity. Many contextual factors such as organizational environment, arrest decision context, socioeconomic and cultural context, and the political power of the minority group can account for the disparity. Instead, they direct future research to address the causes of variation within race effects.

Garrett GrothoffUniversity of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH, USA

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