Daniel J. Givelber
Jack R. Greene, Jack Levin (1941-)
Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Department or Academic Unit
College of Arts and Sciences. Law, Policy, and Society Program.
Criminal Justice, Racial Profiling, Police Enforcement, Race and Police
Racial profiling in law enforcement, Discrimination in law enforcement, Police
Law and Society
This dissertation seeks to understand the extent to which community-level or organizational-level factors are related to the level of racial disparity in traffic enforcement in Massachusetts. Prior research has demonstrated that racial disparities exist in the ways traffic laws are enforced in Massachusetts and in many other communities across the United States. Little research, however, has focused on what factors may be associated with these disparities. Two theoretical frameworks suggest potential explanations for the disparities that have been identified: racial-threat theory and police-organizational theory. Racial threat theory suggests that racial characteristics of a community, such as the size of the minority population or the change in the size of the racial population, may be associated with the level of racial disparity in traffic stops practiced by the police in a particular community. From this perspective the perceived level of threat posed by the minority community either due to the overall size of the community or the population growth of that group, would result in increased enforcement directed at minority drivers. From the police organizational theory perspective prior research has shown that characteristics of police agencies can influence the use of discretion by the officers of that agency. This research investigates the extent to which certain police organizational characteristics influence the level of racial disparity in traffic enforcement practiced by officers of that agency. The research finds some support for racial threat theory in the practice of stopping vehicles driven by non-White drivers in Massachusetts but the research finds no support for racial threat theory in the practice of searching non-White drivers. The implications of this model are that in communities with a larger non-White population the police are more likely to stop non-white drivers disproportionately as suggested by some racial threat theorists. In the analysis of police organizational characteristics again the variables in the model were associated with the decision to stop but not the decision to search non-White drivers. Departments with a written community policing plan were less likely to have high disparities in stops. When the two models were combined to account for community level variables and police organizational two indicators are significantly related to the level of disparity in traffic stops the proportion of the community's population that is non-White and the existence of a community policing plan. The implications of this research are that community level and organizational level factors can help to explain the disparity that has been noted nationally in the traffic enforcement practices of police.
McDevitt, Jack, "Factors influencing racial disparities in traffic enforcement in Massachusetts" (2008). Law, Policy, and Society Dissertations. Paper 3. http://hdl.handle.net/2047/d10016193
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