Speaker Series: Linda Zhao
Although it is frequently argued that recruiting minority officers can improve policing by fostering positive contact and collaborations between minority and white officers, officer diversity could in theory also produce more racially polarized networks and thus have the opposite of the intended effect. Few studies so far consider how officer networks differ across policing contexts, and little is known about the link between the diversity of police workforces, the structure of officer networks, and policing outcomes. In this study, I use data from the second-largest police agency in the United States to analyze joint implications of officer diversity and racial homophily, defined as barriers to racial mixing in officer co-arrest networks, for police misconduct. Results show that levels of racial homophily are higher in districts with more diverse officer workforces, and that the combination of homophily and diversity is linked to an elevated risk of police misconduct, even after controlling for other explanations of misconduct at both the officer and district level. These patterns contradict the idea that diversifying police forces necessarily improves the internal dynamics of police forces and is consistent with the broader sociological insight that the benefits of diversity are challenged by racial homophily within social networks.
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Linda Zhao’s research focuses on how social contexts (such as levels of diversity or inequality in a population) can shape intergroup dynamics in social networks, how social networks and social contexts are linked to our behaviors and decisions, and how such networks can generate inequality. Her projects investigate intergroup dynamics, inequality, and social influence in networks within the areas of immigrant integration, policing, and public health. Zhao’s current work leverages data from a range of contexts such as adolescent friendships in classrooms, officer networks in police departments, as well as quasi-experimental settings using computational models. Prior to joining the University of Chicago, Zhao was a Frank H.T. Rhodes Postdoctoral Fellow at the Cornell Population Center.