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Race and Officer Decision Making: Examining Differences in Arrest Outcomes Between Black and White Officers

NCJ Number
Justice Quarterly Volume: 23 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2006 Pages: 96-126
Robert A. Brown; James Frank
Date Published
March 2006
31 pages
Using data from systematic social observations of police-citizen encounters in Cincinnati, OH, this study examined the influence of an officer's race on arrest outcomes, with attention to the behavior of Black officers.
Findings indicate that an officer's race directly influenced the decision to arrest. Generally, White officers were more likely to arrest suspects than Black officers; however, for Black suspects, arrests were more likely when officers were Black. For Black officers, but not for White officers, arrest decisions were influenced by length of service, the suspect's gender, whether a crime was committed in their presence, and by the number of citizen bystanders who witnessed the encounter. Only the quantity of evidence and being dispatched to the scene of the encounter significantly predicted arrests for White officers but not Black officers. Regardless of an officer's race, the likelihood of arrest significantly increased if an encounter involved a suspect believed by the officer to have committed a felony, if the suspect was visibly intoxicated, showed disrespect or hostility toward the police, or if the suspect was a juvenile. These findings are consistent with previous research on arrest outcomes in police-citizen encounters. Data were collected through systematic social observations of street-level officers employed by the Cincinnati Police Division between April 1997 and April 1998. Coding instruments were used to structure observations and the collection of information on variables. The 82 White officers observed averaged 4.4 police-suspect encounters (n=362); the 54 Black officers observed averaged 4.5 encounters (n=252). The dependent variable was the arrest decision. Independent variables were length of service, offense seriousness, quantity of evidence, female suspect, non-White suspect, juvenile suspect, disrespectful suspect, interaction-phase crime, intoxicated suspect, officer dispatched, arrest preferred, citizen bystanders, and community disorganization. Multivariate analyses were conducted. 2 tables and 94 references