Berkeley Computational Social Science Forum — Diversity, Peer Effects, and Police Officer Behavior

CSS Training Program

November 23, 2021
4:00pm to 5:00pm
Virtual Participation


Berkeley Computational Social Science Forum
Date: Tuesday, November 23, 2021
Time: 4:00-5:00 PM Pacific Time
Location: Virtual Participation – Register to attend via Zoom

Diversity, Peer Effects, and Police Officer Behavior

Presenters: Samuel Donahue, PhD Student in Sociology, and Gerard Torrats-Espinosa, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Columbia University
Abstract: Racial discrimination by police is one of the most pressing domestic policy issues of our time. Most of the literature on the determinants of officer behavior has focused on how officer characteristics such as race, gender, age, and experience compound and drive discretionary decision making. Yet, a growing area of research has explored the role that peers and networks play in influencing officer behavior. This project extends this scholarship by investigating how diversity in the workplace, peer influences, and officer networks impact officers’ behavior when they come into contact with citizens in five US cities—Austin, TX, Boston, MA, Chicago, IL, Dallas, TX, and New Orleans, LA. Our project contributes to the literature by (1) proposing a research design that allows us to investigate the role of diversity and peer influences from a causal perspective, (2) investigating the role that officers’ political affiliation plays in their behavior on the ground, and (3) building a data infrastructure that offers new insights on how officers are connected to each other in the workplace. In this talk, we will present the different research designs that will help us tackle these questions and show preliminary findings from Chicago. 

The Computational Social Science Forum is an informal setting for the interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and scholarship at the intersection of social science and data science. Participants engage in a variety of activities such as presentations of work in progress, discussions and critiques of recent papers, introductions to new tools and methods, discussions around ethics, fairness, inequality, and responsible conduct of research, as well as professional development. This Forum is organized as part of the Computational Social Science Training Program, and weekly meetings are hosted by researchers from BIDS and D-Lab. The group welcomes social scientists and researchers with interests in data science methods and tools, and data scientists with applications or interests in public policy, social, behavioral, and health sciences. Participants include graduate students, postdocs, staff, and faculty, and members are encouraged to attend regularly in order to foster community around improving computational social science research, supporting the development and research of group members, and fostering new collaborations. Interested UC Berkeley community members are invited to use this registration form to receive the schedule and access links. Please contact for more information or if you are interested in presenting current research for an upcoming session.


Gerard Torrats-Espinosa

Assistant Professor of Sociology, Columbia University

Gerard Torrats-Espinosa is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Columbia University and a member of the Data Science Institute. His research draws from the literatures on urban sociology, stratification, and criminology, and it focuses on understanding how the spatial organization of the American stratification system creates and reproduces inequalities. His current research agenda investigates how the neighborhood context, particularly the experience of community violence, determines the life chances of children; how social capital and social organization emerge and evolve in spatial contexts; and how place and geography structure educational and economic opportunity in America and elsewhere. He holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from New York University and a Master in Public Policy from Harvard University.

Samuel Donahue

PhD Student in Sociology, Columbia University

Sam Donahue is a PhD student and Paul F. Lazarsfeld Fellow in Columbia University's Department of Sociology and a research fellow at the Justice Lab. His primary research interests include policing, political polarization, and race. Before joining Columbia, Sam worked at the Center for Policing Equity as the research manager, a research action think tank focused on addressing racial disparities in policing.