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RACE ON POLICING: Introduction

Race is a polarizing feature in American society. Nowhere is this more evident than in the criminal justice system. African Americans, who comprise twelve percent of the U.S. population, account for 47 percent of felony convictions and 54 percent of prison admissions. Studies suggest that one-third of African American males aged 20-29 are under the supervision of the criminal justice system on any given day (Mauer and Huling 1995). Minority communities are often suspicious of and hostile towards the criminal justice system and particular police (National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders 1968, Mast 1970, NAACP 1995). Conflicts between police and citizens have been the flashpoint for virtually every recent urban riot.

As early as the Kemer Commission report (United States Kemer Commission 1968), the potential social benefits of minority police officers have been recognized. Minority officers may have an advantage when it comes to dealing with problems in predominantly minority neighborhoods, both because of a greater understanding of cultural norms and because of increased community acceptance. It is frequently argued that without the cooperation of community members in reporting crimes and identifying criminals, there may be little that police can do either to prevent crime or punish those who commit crimes (Wilson 1983, Skogan 1986, Skolnick and Bayley 1986, Moore 1992, Akerlof and Yellen 1994).

Same-race police may lead to a greater willingness of victims of crime to report offenses to the police, an increased ability to solve cases due to community cooperation, and a reduction in the number of unjustified arrests or police harassment. The implication of such arguments is that matching police patrols to neighborhoods by race or ethnicity may provide social benefits.

On the other hand, if police are more reluctant to arrest suspects of their own race even when the arrest is justified (as might be predicted from research in social psychology, e.g. Crosby, Bromley, and Saxe 1980, Krieger 1995), same-race policing may be less effective in reducing crime than cross-race policing. Furthermore, the possibility of police corruption may increase with same-race policing.

Enforcement of illicit contracts between enterprises engaged in criminal activities (e.g. gangs, organized crime, chop-shops) and the police may be easier within a racial or ethnic group. There is ample anecdotal evidence of police-related corruption (Wilson 1968, Knapp Commission 1972, Morton 1993). In fact, widespread corruption was one of the critical factors underlying the initial movement away from politically-based police appointments towards the professionalization of policing (Monkkonen 1992).

In spite of the importance of the issue of race in policing, we are aware of very little relevant academic research. consolidate payday loans