Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy > Vol 1 > Issue

Toward a General Causal Framework for the Study of Racial Bias in Policing

Dean Knox, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, USA, Jonathan Mummolo, of Public and International Affairs, Princeton University, USA,
Suggested Citation
Dean Knox and Jonathan Mummolo (2020), "Toward a General Causal Framework for the Study of Racial Bias in Policing", Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy: Vol. 1: No. .

Forthcoming: 31 Oct 2020
© 2020 D. Knox and J. Mummolo
Bureaucracy,  Security,  Econometric models: Identification,  Law and Economics: Crime
Policingracial biascausal inferenceresearch designpartial identificationmeta-analysis


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In this article:
Research Design in the Study of Racial Bias in Policing
Reinterpreting Seemingly Disconnected Approaches to Studying Racial Bias
Checklist for the Study of Racial Bias
Moving beyond Data on Detainments


A series of controversial police-involved killings and nationwide protests have recently reinvigorated the study of racial bias in policing. But a fractured interdisciplinary literature presents contradictory claims, and scholars have struggled to reconcile a dizzying array of seemingly incompatible analytic approaches that often rely on implausible and/or unstated assumptions. This confusion arose in part because data constraints have prompted researchers to examine only isolated aspects of the police–civilian encounters they seek to understand — focusing only on traffic stops in one study, or fatal shootings in another — while neglecting the complex, multi-stage nature of these interactions. The result is a conflicting and at times misleading body of evidence. To move toward a scientific consensus, scholars should converge on a common empirical framework that unites these disparate approaches under a shared conceptual umbrella, acknowledges the causal nature of the study of racial bias, accounts for the fundamental limitations of policing data, and yields substantively interpretable results that are useful to policymakers. We present such a framework and demonstrate its capacity to adjudicate conflicting claims, accumulate knowledge, and characterize the severity of one of the most pressing problems of institutional performance of our time.