Levelling the playing field in police recruitment: Evidence from a field experiment on test performance

AuthorElizabeth Linos,Joanne Reinhard,Simon Ruda
Published date01 December 2017
Date01 December 2017
Levelling the playing field in police recruitment:
Evidence from a field experiment on test
Elizabeth Linos
| Joanne Reinhard
| Simon Ruda
Goldman School of Public Policy, UC
Berkeley, California
Behavioral Insights Team, Brooklyn,
New York
Behavioural Insights Team, London, UK
Elizabeth Linos, Goldman School of Public
Policy, 2607 Hearst Ave, Berkeley, CA 94720.
Email: elinos@berkeley.edu
How to increase diversity in the police is an unanswered question
that has received significant political and media attention. One
area of intervention is the recruitment process itself. This study
reports the results of a randomized controlled trial (RCT) in a
police force that was experiencing a disproportionate drop in
minority applicants during one particular test. Drawing on insights
from the literatures on stereotype threat, belonging uncertainty
and values affirmation exercises, we redesigned the wording on
the email inviting applicants to participate in the test. The results
show a 50 per cent increase in the probability of passing the test
for minority applicants in the treatment group, with no effect on
white applicants. Therefore, the intervention closed the racial gap
in the pass rate without lowering the recruitment standard or
changing the assessment questions.
In the United States, three out of every four police officers are white, making police forces almost 30 percentage
points more white than the communities they serve (Ashkenas and Park 2014). After incidents in Ferguson and
other cities, both the popular press and policy-makers have highlighted the urgency of improving the diversity
of police forces across the country (United States Department of Justice 2015). Similarly in the United Kingdom,
all major political parties listed improving the diversity of the police as part of their 2015 election campaign plat-
forms. At its core, this goal is grounded in theories of representative bureaucracy; the argument that a more
diverse civil service will allow government to more accurately reflect the preferences ofor better serve the
needs ofa diverse public (see Kennedy 2014 for an overview). Specifically, a more representative bureaucracy
may impact citizens' perception of public sector legitimacy (Theobald and Haider-Markel 2009) but may also
directly influence the ability of the public sector to serve the public effectively (Weitzer and Tuch 2006;
Bradbury and Kellough 2011). In policing, recent evidence suggests that these theories hold true. Not only are
more diverse police forces perceived as more trustworthy and fair (Riccucci et al. 2014), they also correlate with
positive outcomes ranging from less crime (Hong 2016) to better reporting of sexual assault (Meier and
DOI: 10.1111/padm.12344
Public Administration. 2017;95:943956. wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/padm © 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd 943

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