Law 561A/B - The Social Psychological Bases of Racial Disparities in Policing

Devon W. Carbado

Devon W. Carbado

Associate Vice Chancellor of BruinX for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
The Honorable Harry Pregerson Professor of Law
B.A. UCLA, 1991
J.D. Harvard, 1994
UCLA Faculty Since 1997
Course Description:

Students who leave law school and enter the field of criminal law will have to grapple with the ethical and doctrinal issues that derive from the multiple ways in which race intersects with criminal justice. Part of this will entail making sense of the latest string of high-profile officer-involved-shootings of minority men and boys.  These shootings have become a significant matter of public concern, and they raise profound questions about the role of lawyers in policing the police.

Yet, how lawyers imagine their professional role with respect to policing will turn, at least in part, on how they understand the problem of race in policing. Significantly, not all the officers who deploy violence against, for example, African American men, have a history of racial bias in other aspects of their lives. Moreover, black, not just white officers, can engage in racially discriminatory policing.

Increasingly, courts are acknowledging the complex psychological dynamics in intergroup interactions, from the boardroom to the street corner, and are taking more seriously the well-developed social psychological evidence that speaks to these phenomena. Our course will provide students with a primer in the social psychological concepts that impact interracial dynamics, with a focus on racially disparate policing as a case study of these processes in action. Students will learn about the ways in which implicit biases and explicit norms produce racially biased behavior among officers, covering a collection of well-developed bodies of research.  

Materials for the course will include accessible scientific articles that demonstrate the ways in which complex phenomena like policing are reproduced and studied in the lab. Students will supplement their readings by taking the role of subjects in actual social psychological paradigms. For instance, they will adopt the persona of a police officer in a first-person-shooter paradigm, to gain familiarity with the process of decision-making in the cognitively noisy environment of policing. These activities will give students a deeper understanding of the science and will form the backbone of discussions on the role of social psychological evidence in the courtroom, the limitations of current discrimination doctrine in addressing contemporary bias, and alternative approaches to bias reduction in the current legal climate.

Meeeting dates: 7:00 - 9:30pm 8/31, 10/26, 11/23, 1/25, 2/29