The Impact of Police Deployment on Racial Disparities in Discretionary Searches

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A large and growing body of research finds racial disparities in discretionary searches of drivers during traffic stops with Black drivers disproportionately involved in these investigations. Among the explanations for these disparities is the deployment hypothesis which suggests that as police departments increasingly adopt hot spots policing strategies, proactive traffic stops and discretionary searches may spatially cluster around crime hot spots contributing to racial disparities. The present study builds on the existing research literature by identifying hot spots using reported crime data from a police department and examining whether these crime hot spots function as a mediating factor to the relationship between driver race and discretionary searches. Findings provide partial support for the deployment hypothesis. While nearly half of all traffic stops transpired within one quarter mile of hot spots and more frequently involved Black drivers, stops involving Black drivers remained more likely to include discretionary searches and increased concomitantly with distance from the nearest hot spot.

Keywords racial profiling, race and policing, traffic stops, driving while black, directed patrol, hot spots

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