The Contract For Policing Justice: A Research Agenda for Racial Bias in Policing

Phillip Goff, a social psychologist at UCLA and a former Visiting Scholar, helps lead the Racial Bias in Policing Working Group. The interdisciplinary team seeks to integrate experimental and survey research with personnel data to shed light on why, how, and when race influences police decisions, and how law enforcement agencies might change their officer recruitment, hiring, and training decisions to reduce racial bias.

Goff wrote the following essay about a new initiative, the Contract for Policing Justice (PDF). 

Given how long racism has been part of our social fabric, it would be shocking to think that there remained uncertainty about how to measure racial bias in one of our most important social institutions, law enforcement. Yet, that is precisely the position we find ourselves in with regard to racial bias in policing. The best efforts of criminologists and federal agencies have primarily succeeded at documenting racial disparities, and have largely failed to produce compelling evidence of racial bias. The inability to distinguish disparity from discrimination has, in turn, hampered both scientists and practitioners wishing to ensure equity in policing. In other words, the dearth of knowledge about racial bias in policing hampers the pursuit of equity.

Specifically lacking in the research is an examination of the causal relationship between officer psychological attitudes and their interactions with minority suspects. However, mistrust between law enforcement and researchers has led to the inaccessibility of data in order for researchers to objectively to determine the state of equity in policing. What is known, however, is that there is a need for collaboration between researchers and law enforcement. This working group is designed to establish partnerships between these two stakeholders that would enable researches to conduct original research to answer the problems plaguing law enforcement today.

As a step towards establishing this trust, researchers and law enforcement created a research agenda. In response to this need, the Consortium for Police Leadership in Equity (CPLE) held a summer conference in August 2010, attended by executives from 23 of the largest law enforcement agencies in the US and Canada, 37 leading social science scholars, representatives from federal agencies, and leaders from national community advocacy groups. Law enforcement and researchers identified three key areas as most pressing: unwarranted disparate police treatment of minorities; immigration and immigrant community issues; and internal legitimacy within police agencies, and were eager to expand collaborative relationships. The Contract for Policing Justice (CPJ) was created and endorsed by the Major Cities Chiefs Association, with the goal of providing a roadmap to ensure effective and unbiased law enforcement, and it now serves as a national agenda for research and practice in policing equity.

Related RSF Publications:

Legitimacy and Criminal Justice: International Perspectives explores the reasons that legal authorities are or are not seen as legitimate and trustworthy by many citizens.

Trust in the Law: Encouraging Public Cooperation with the Police and the Courts presents a compelling argument that effective law enforcement requires the active engagement and participation of the communities it serves.


RSF: The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal of original empirical research articles by both established and emerging scholars.


The Russell Sage Foundation offers grants and positions in our Visiting Scholars program for research.


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