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Working Paper

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This paper provides evidence of racial variation in local governments' traffic enforcement responses to budget stress using data from policing agencies in the state of Missouri for the years 2001 through 2012. Like previous studies, we find that local budget stress is associated with higher citation rates. In addition, we find that there is an increase in traffic-stop arrests. However, we find that these effects are concentrated among white (rather than black or Hispanic) drivers. The results are robust to the inclusion of a range of covariates for traffic stops and to the inclusion of local population features interacted with year. The effect on citations holds in a regression-discontinuity specification looking at bare budget shortfalls. These results are consistent with a model where traffic police selectively target higher-income drivers to compensate for budget stress. Also consistent with this view, we find that the racial difference in citation rates is highest where the white-to-black income ratio is highest.