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Abstract

This paper develops a model of racial profiling by law enforcement officers when officers observe both an individual's race as well as a noisy signal of his or her guilt that depends on whether or not a crime has been committed. The model shows that given officers observe such a guilt signal, data regarding the guilt rate among those investigated from each race will not be sufficient for determining whether racially unequal investigation rates are due to statistical discrimination or racial bias on the part of officers. The model also reveals that when racially unequal investigation rates are due to statistical discrimination, imposing a colorblind policy on officers can increase, decrease, or have little effect on the crime rate, depending on specific characteristics of the jurisdiction and the crime in question.