Panel Paper: Closing the Racial Gap in Police Recruiting: Evidence from a Field Experiment on Police Test Performance

Friday, November 4, 2016 : 2:30 PM
Albright (Washington Hilton)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Elizabeth Linos1, Joanne Reinhard2 and Simon Ruda2, (1)Harvard University, (2)BIT

Recruiting a more diverse police force is an important public policy goal, especially in communities where the composition of the police force differs dramatically from the demographics of a community. After incidents in Ferguson, Missouri, and other cities across the United States, this systematic lack of diversity—where minorities make up only a quarter of the police across the United States—has been highlighted in the popular press (Ashkenas & Park, 2014) and by policymakers. While much attention has been placed on increasing the number of applicants from diverse backgrounds, less attention has been devoted to determining how the assessment process itself affects the ability of police forces to hire qualified individuals from underrepresented groups. This study sought to develop a means to reduce any performance gap in testing between non-white and white applicants that is unrelated to ability or future performance on the job. The paper reports the results of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted in cooperation with a UK police force that was experiencing a disproportionate drop in minority applicants at one stage in its assessment process, the Situational Judgment Test (SJT). Drawing on insights from the literatures on stereotype threat (Steele & Aronson, 1995), belonging uncertainty (Walton & Cohen, 2007) and the impact of values affirmation exercises (Harackiewicz et al., 2014), we redesigned the wording on the email applicants were sent inviting them to participate in the SJT. The redesign included, amongst other things: removing as many sentences that may increase anxiety, shifting the tone to be more welcoming and encouraging, and asking applicants to think about what it would mean to them and their community if they were police officers. The results show a 50 percent increase in the probability of passing the test for black and minority ethnic applicants in the treatment group; the intervention had no effect on white applicants in the treatment group. Therefore, the intervention closed the racial gap in the probability of passing the test without lowering the standard or changing the assessment questions.