Gender gaps in police decisions

Category: Applied Microeconomics and Organization Seminar
When: 04 November 2020
, 14:00
 - 15:00


This paper studies the gender gap in officer decisions to frisk and/or search male and female subjects in more than 600,000 investigatory stops in Boston, Chicago, and Seattle. In all three cities, females are more than 60% less likely to be patted down than males – a gap that is not sensitive to a large set of observable stop and subject controls, including officer fixed effects. Studying the interaction of officer and subject gender, we find evidence for cross-gender effects suggesting that taste-based discrimination explains at least some of the gap: the gap in frisk rates closes by about 30% in Seattle and more than 50% in Boston for female versus male officers. Moreover, having a female supervisor results in male officers being more likely to frisk female subjects, i.e. they behave more like female officers. Taste-based discrimination can arise through multiple channels, including paternalism, a norm of inappropriateness to touch females, and concerns about accountability. We find little evidence consistent with the latter two mechanisms, as shocks to accountability (the roll-out of body worn cameras in Chicago) or inappropriateness norms (#MeToo) have little observable effect on the gender gap in frisks. These results suggest that the under-representation of females in positions of authority (just 13% of U.S. officers and far fewer supervisors are females) can have unexpected consequences and does not always lead to the unfavorable treatment of females.