Police officers spend more time patrolling non-white neighborhoods, IU study finds 

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (IUSTV News) – New data from Indiana University has found that police officers spend more time patrolling non-white neighborhoods. Using anonymized smartphone data, researchers studied 10,000 police officers across 21 U.S. cities. 

The assistant professor of marketing at the IU Kelley School of Business Kate Christensen was a part of the team that studied police patrol. Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles and Irvine, and American University contributed to the findings as well. 

“I think this has been a really interesting project. For me, it started out with a question during the pandemic which is ‘What’s happening? Where are people going? I used the tools that I have learned as a business school researcher to try and address that problem with a lot of different teams,” Christensen said. 

Researchers used anonymous phone data to pinpoint where police officers travel during patrol to understand where they spend the most time. Some police departments track the locations of police vehicles, but Christensen says this didn’t give them the full picture. 

Phone data, however, allowed Christensen and her colleagues to track where police officers patrolled when they left their vehicles. 

Their findings however, do not explain why police officers spend more time patrolling non-white neighborhoods. 

“Our data is correlational so we can’t tell you the answers. All we can say is that there is this pattern. We can’t say that it’s because of over policing or under policing. All we can say is that we find this difference and it seems interesting to look at this difference and further research can examine why this might be,” Christensen said. 

Combining the data from six different cities including: New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Austin, and Washington D.C. – researchers found that more time spent in Black neighborhoods correlated to higher arrest rates for Black residents.

“We find still this difference in time spent. As an example, for every one percent increase in Black residents in an area, we found 0.36% increase in time spent in that area. This could explain statistically more than half of the higher arrest rate of Black people in the cities for which we had this data,” Christensen said. 

Christensen says few police departments track officer location data and very few publish the data they do have. Most of the police data released relates to arrests and traffic stops. Data such as this allows the public to understand where police officers are patrolling and how it correlates to arrest rates. 

“Police data is very different city by city, so we don’t have a national data set of a lot of the things that we are interested in,” she said. “Different cities release different amounts of data. What we also don’t have is what happens before an arrest. How much time is spent in different areas?” 

Christensen is unsure what sort of impact the data findings will have, but she says she hopes data like this will help the public understand what happens before police make an arrest.