The John M. Olin Center

Paper Abstract

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87. Spencer Smith, Body Cameras and Police Discrimination: Evidence from London, 06/2019.

Abstract: This paper uses administrative data from the London Metropolitan Police Service to investigate discrimination in police searches and to estimate the effects of body cameras on discrimination. It finds that, prior to a body camera trial, black individuals were 2.5 times more likely to be searched than white or South Asian (Indian or Pakistani) individuals. Ethnic disparities were greater for drug searches, for which black individuals were 2.9 times and South Asians 1.4 times more likely to be searched than whites. Men were 15.8 times more likely to be searched than women. These disparities cannot be completely explained by accurate statistical discrimination, as there were significant differences in search success rates between ethnic, gender, and age groups. Ethnic and age differences were driven by drug searches. Overall, the differences were consistent with preference-based or inaccurate statistical discrimination against young minority-ethnic men. Using variation in the timing and location of body camera use resulting from a one-year camera trial, I find suggestive but not conclusive evidence that cameras reduced these disparities, particularly the gender disparity in search success rates.