Police Suspicion and Discretionary Decision Making During Citizen Stops

Published In: Criminology, v. 43, no. 2, May 2005, p. 407-434

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2005

by Geoffrey P. Alpert, John MacDonald, Roger D. Dunham

This study examines the influence of racial, demographic and situational variables on types of police suspicion and the ancillary decision to stop and question suspects. Data were drawn from an observational study of police decision making in Savannah, Georgia. Based on the literature, the authors hypothesized that minority suspects will be more likely to be viewed suspiciously by the police for nonbehavioral reasons. The authors also hypothesize that minority status will play a significant role in the decision to stop and question suspicious persons. The findings from this study provide partial support for these hypotheses. The results indicate that minority status does influence an officer's decision to form nonbehavioral as opposed to behavioral suspicion, but that minority status does not influence the decision to stop and question suspects. The authors discuss the implications of these findings for understanding race and its role in police decision making.

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