Kent State Professor Gets a Federal Grant to Study Bias Among Younger Police Officers

Oct 23, 2016

A Kent State University economics professor is part of a federally funded study of police bias. Associate Professor Shawn Rohlin says the $280,000 Department of Justice grant looks build upon his earlier research on bias in younger officers.

Rohlin, and another economics professor from Syracuse University, have been studying the Syracuse City Police Department. He says they’ve found some encouraging news.

“It seems to be that newer cops, young cops, are profiling, but that they’re improving over time. It takes about three to four years and they seem to improve. So it’s not some inherent bias against minorities, it seems to be, at least in the early analysis that we’re done, they improve over time which means it’s not intentional, it’s just a lack of information. That’s called in economics, statistical discrimination.”

Rohlin compares that to someone who automatically assumes a person with a college degree is smart. With the federal grant, he says researchers will take this information a step further. Now, they are going to start looking more deeply at what causes this bias based on an officer’s experience. This will include an examination of how certain pairings of officers may impact bias and profiling.

“Mentoring, and what happens if you’re an unbiased officer and you’re put with a biased officer, how do these interactions work? And we have not done any research on that yet, but we’re going to be looking at what we call network effects in economics, that what happens when you put different pairings together. Or regionally if you put certain cops near other cops, does their knowledge spill over?”

Rohlin believes this research could lead to policy changes requiring police department to always pair rookie officers with seasoned veterans who are less prone to racial bias on the job. The Justice Department funding follows heightened nationwide concern over police shootings, particularly the shootings of black suspects by white officers.

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