Philadelphia Police Department
A police car in Philadelphia AFP

Do police departments differentially patrol the more heavily Black, Hispanic, or Asian neighborhoods in their cities? That is the question a paper recently published in the MIT's Review of Economics and Statistics sought to answer.

After using anonymized smartphone data from nearly 10,000 officers across 21 of the country's largest cities across a 10 month period in 2017, their answer is yes.

Concretely, they found that officers spend spend 3.6% more time in places where the fraction of residents who are Black is 10 percentage points higher, 5.2% more when it comes to Hispanic residents and 3.7% more time in a place where in neighborhoods with larger Asian presence.

"Our neighborhood-level analysis of GPS location data shows that police officers spend
more time in places with larger Black, Hispanic, or Asian populations both between and within cities," reads a passage of the study, authored by Keith Chen, Katherine Christensen, Elicia John, Emily Owens and Yilin Zhuo.

"While controlling for variation in socioeconomic status, social disorganization, and violent crime reduces these disparities, it does not eliminate the disparity in officer time spent in more Black or Hispanic vs. more White neighborhoods. This suggests that social interventions targeted at the 'root causes' of crime may be unlikely to eliminate the racial and ethnic disparities we observe in American policing," reads the study.

The time spent in the different neighborhoods, the paper adds, explains roughly 55% of the "Black-White disparity in neighborhood arrests, conditional on neighborhood characteristics."

"Differential residential demand for police presence, some of which is created by decisions made in other policy domains, explains approximately 35% of the disparate exposure of people living in relatively Black neighborhoods, 33% of the disparate exposure of people living in relatively Hispanic neighborhoods, and can explain all of the additional exposure of people living in relatively Asian neighborhoods—even suggesting that more Asian neighborhoods have less police presence than one might expect based on social conditions," concludes the study.

According to a report by Statista, Hispanic men showed the second-highest incarceration rates in the U.S. in 2021, with 810 individuals behind bars for every 100,000 people. They were only surpassed by Black men, with 1,807 men per 100,000 people. The figure for White men was 327 per 100,000 people from this demographic and 144 per 100,000 for Asian men.

When it comes to women, Hispanics also saw the second largest rate behind Black women. In this case, 49 women for every 100,000 had been imprisoned in the country, the figure being 62 per 100,000 for Black women, 38 for White women and 5 for Asian women.

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