Black police officers disciplined for misconduct more often than White officers, study shows

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Racial inequality has moved to the forefront of the national conversation in 2020. Now, despite an equal number of allegations, researchers from Indiana University find Black police officers face discipline from their respective departments for misconduct far more often than their White counterparts.

“We found a consistent pattern of racial differences in the formal recording of disciplinary actions in three different major metropolitan cities: Chicago, Philadelphia and Los Angeles,” study authors write in a media release. “Our results showed that Black officers were more likely to have recorded cases of misconduct, despite there being no difference between Black and White officers in the number of allegations made against them.

“It is impossible to know whether these differences are due to racial bias versus some other unmeasured factors. However, it is noteworthy that the pattern of results is in line with what theories of racial bias would predict and with evidence of racial disparities in punishment in other settings.”

Black police officers face significantly more punishment

Using archival data, researchers report Black police officers in Chicago have been reprimanded 105 percent more than the city’s White officers. In Philadelphia, the study says Black officers are 48 times more likely to face discipline. Examples of misconduct allegations include verbal assault, physical violence, and lack of service.

“Just as organizational leaders have implemented policies and procedures to mitigate adverse impact in hiring, they may need to implement checks to ensure that there is no adverse impact in the detection and enforcing of organizational misconduct,” researchers add. “Just as bias by police against citizens has been very slow to change, it is likely that any bias within police departments has also been slow to change.”

Inequalities within departments

The study used Chicago Police Department data from 2001-2008 and 2011-2015. Administrative records from the Philadelphia Police Department between 1991-1998 and data from the Analysis Group for the City of Los Angeles from 2003-2004 were part of the study as well.

The records from Los Angeles and Chicago examined racial differences in the amount of allegations made against officers. While no differences were seen among Caucasians and African Americans, there were mixed results regarding both Hispanic and Asian police officers in those two cities.

“Similar to the issues facing the criminal justice and education systems, where racial disparities in punishment are well-documented, organizations face a difficult challenge in detecting and enforcing misconduct,” study authors conclude. “Even when organizations adopt seemingly objective policies for addressing misconduct, it is still possible for certain groups to be disproportionately accused of misconduct and/or disciplined.”

The study is published in Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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