Race and the Ecology of Policing: Testing for Neighborhood-Level Discrimination in the NYPD’s Program of Stop, Question, and Frisk

Roland Neil , Harvard University

In order to understand police behavior, it is essential to understand why officers behave so differently in different neighborhoods. I argue that the racial composition of neighborhoods is an important driver of police behavior—what I call neighborhood-level discrimination—and describe several specific mechanisms as to why this may be the case. While prior research has examined racial composition in relation to police behavior, it has not directly tested this claim. Using data on nearly 750,000 weapon stops conducted by the NYPD between 2008 and 2012, I test whether racial composition explains variation in hit rates. I do so by implementing a novel matching approach, which offers to strengthen inferences about how context affects individuals more generally. Results indicate that neighborhood-level discrimination was an important driver of NYPD weapon stop patterns. Implications for understanding police behavior, the relationship between race and policing, and the neighborhood-sources of inequality are discussed.

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 Presented in Session 236. Neighborhood Effects and Inequality