Panel Paper: Racial Representation in Police Departments: Does It Impact Use of Force?

Friday, November 3, 2017
Stetson F (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Andrea Marie Headley, Florida International University and James Wright, American University

The issue surrounding representation in local government administration has been discussed for decades, particularly relating to racial and gender representation. This discussion of representation finds its roots amidst civil rights issues, unjust treatment, and lack of equitable policy outputs, all of which can lead to community dissatisfaction or social unrest (as we have seen in the case of policing and incidents in Baltimore and Ferguson). One theoretical concept underlying this discussion is representative bureaucracy. Fundamentally this idea prescribes that, a police force that is more representative of the population it serves would result in better outcomes and treatment for that population.

Given the salient nature surrounding racial representation within the police force this paper examines race and officer’s use of force. Specifically, this paper is one of the few to use representative bureaucracy by testing the link between passive and active representation to understand how an officer’s race influences the type of force used on a citizen of the same race and of a different race. Utilizing data from two different police departments: Dallas Police Department and Indianapolis Police Department, which both track officers’ use of force, we can identify if there are demarcated differences in the type of force used when the officer has a similar race to that of the citizen (i.e. racial combinations). Using approximately 2.5 years’ worth of data (2014-2016), this research employs ordinal logit to assess the amount and type of force used by officers against citizens. Additionally, this research offers a comparative analysis to see if the findings hold for both police departments and their respective locales.

The preliminary findings suggest that there are racial factors that impact police use of force against citizens. While further investigation is still needed, the results of this study lend support for representative bureaucracy theory. Moreover, it is important to note that police are an agent of the government, operating within highly bureaucratic structures, performing functions based on policy and with a wide range of discretion (Maynard-Moody and Musheno, 2003). Thus, this paper concludes by arguing that policing should be continuously explored in the public administration literature specifically. Furthermore, with the current negative climate seen in the public service delivery of policing, the field of public administration is ripe to explore such issues.