Police officers on patrol spend more time in predominantly Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, according to a new study.

Researchers used anonymized smartphone data from nearly 10,000 police officers in 21 large US cities for the study.

“Research on policing has focused on documented actions such as stops and arrests—less is known about patrols and presence,” says Kate Christensen, assistant professor of marketing at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business.

“Police have discretion in deciding where law enforcement is provided within America’s cities,” she says. “Where police officers are located matters, because it affects where crimes are deterred and what the public knows about crimes as they happen. Police presence can influence when and where crime is officially recorded.”

Christensen and colleagues are the first to use anonymized smartphone location data to identify and study the movements of police officers while on patrol in America’s cities.

Few police departments collect detailed officer location data, and even fewer release it publicly. This analysis of smartphone GPS data allowed researchers to study where officers chose to spend their time, including when they were patrolling outside their cars.

GPS data revealed a strong correlation between racial and ethnic composition of a neighborhood and police presence.

“Our findings suggest that disparities in exposure to police are associated with both structural socioeconomic disparities and discretionary decision making by police commanders and officers,” the researchers write.

On average, the research indicated that police spent:

  • 6% more time in areas of a city where the fraction of Black residents was 10% higher.
  • 2% more time in places with 10% higher share of Hispanic residents.
  • 7% more time in places with 10% as many Asian residents.

Read the full article about policing in Black and Hispanic neighborhoods by George Vlahakis at Futurity.