Are the Police demographically representative of those whom they serve?

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ON the Coercive Arm of Government a new paper is available at the Princeton website. ABSTRACT: Policies to make police forces more representative of communities have centered on race. But race may crudely proxy views and lived experiences, undermining classic theories of representative bureaucracy. To conduct a multi-dimensional analysis, we merge personnel records, voter files and census data to examine roughly 220,000 officers from 97 of the 100 largest local U.S. agencies—over one third of local law enforcement agents nationwide. We show officers skew more White, Republican, politically active, male, and high-income than their jurisdictions; they also surround themselves with similarly unrepresentative neighbors. In a quasi-experimental analysis in Chicago, we find Democratic and minority officers initiate fewer stops, arrests, and uses of force than Republican and White counterparts facing common circumstances. The Black-White behavioral gap is often far larger than the Democratic-Republican gap, a pattern not observed among Hispanic officers. Our results complicate conventional understandings of descriptive representation, highlighting the importance of multi-dimensional perspectives of diversity.

The intersection of multiple identities may affect police behavior in important ways undetectable in prior work. In the words of Dolan and Rosenbloom (2003, p. 77), “a bureaucracy that looks like the population it serves may not effectively translate the policy wishes of the population into public policy” if bureaucrats do not share the public’s “values, opinions, and attitudes.”

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