Racial Disparities in Arrests: The Search for Explanatory Variables

Presentation author(s)

Aryssa Harris ’21, Champaign, Illinois

Majors: Political Science; Sociology
Minor: Spanish


The eminent anthropologist Margaret Mead once called the city of Beloit “America in microcosm.” By this, she was referring to Beloit’s demographic make-up and the social problems it faced. When it comes to the issue of racial disparities in arrests and incarceration, Beloit is definitely a microcosm of America. A report by Rock County compiled in June of 2020 found clear racial disparities in arrests for disorderly conduct in Beloit. Black people represent 12% of Beloit’s population, yet they made up 45% of disorderly conduct arrests. Disorderly conduct is a particularly fruitful crime to use to study racial disparities because it relies heavily on police officers’ discretion in the decision of whether to issue the citation. Since October of 2020, I have been using Beloit Police Department data to examine every arrest that occurred for disorderly conduct in 2018 (n=518). I have created a database of over 25 variables for each arrest that allows me to provide a more nuanced picture of the racial disparity data. In my presentation, I will report on what I have found so far.


Charles Westerberg

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