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Law and Human Behavior

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Although studies often find racial disparities in policing outcomes, less is known about how suspect race biases police interactions as they unfold. This study examines what is differentially occurring during police–suspect interactions for White, Black, and Latino suspects across time. It is hypothesized that racial bias may be more evident earlier in interactions, when less information about the situation is available. One hundred thirty-nine (62 White, 42 Black, and 35 Latino) use-of-force case files and associated written narratives from a medium to large size urban police department in the United States were analyzed. Trained coders broke down the interaction narratives into discrete “sequences,” or dyadic action–reaction steps involving a suspect action (level of resistance) and an officer response (level of force). A linear mixed-effects model was run on amount of police use of force by suspect race and time, with suspect resistance and suspect actions toward third-party/self as controls. Results demonstrated that Black and Latino suspects receive more force in the beginning stages of the interaction, whereas Whites escalated in level of force faster after initial levels. By breaking down police–suspect interactions into discrete sequences, the current study reveals a better understanding of when bias originates in police use of force and informs how to focus policing interventions.



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