Should Cities Disband their Police Departments?
Journal of Urban Economics, forthcoming
This paper finds that disbanding police departments leads to fewer police-related deaths, fewer reported crimes, and lower law enforcement expenditures. However, the number of crimes reported by the sheriff for the entire county increases by an amount commensurate to the decrease in the number of crimes reported by cities that disbanded their police department. Furthermore, disbanding police departments is associated with an increase in county sheriffs spending which offsets the city savings. Thus, disbanding police departments does not appear to impact overall crime, shifts responsibility for law enforcement onto other governments, and reduces the available information about cities’ crimes.
Guns, Privacy, and Crime
Alessandro Acquisti & Catherine Tucker
NBER Working Paper, April 2022
Open government holds promise of both a more efficient but more accountable and transparent government. It is not clear, however, how transparent information about citizens and their interaction with government, however, affects the welfare of those citizens, and if so in what direction. We investigate this by using as a natural experiment the effect of the online publication of the names and addresses of holders of handgun carry permits on criminals' propensity to commit burglaries. In December 2008, a Memphis, TN newspaper published a searchable online database of names, zip codes, and ages of Tennessee handgun carry permit holders. We use detailed crime and handgun carry permit data for the city of Memphis to estimate the impact of publicity about the database on burglaries. We find that burglaries increased in zip codes with fewer gun permits, and decreased in those with more gun permits, after the database was publicized.
Does (All) Police Violence Cause De-policing? Evidence from George Floyd and Police Shootings in Minneapolis
Maya Mikdash & Reem Zaiour
AEA Papers and Proceedings, May 2022, Pages 170-173
We test for a "Ferguson Effect" by studying how police effort responds to different incidents of police violence. We do so using two settings in Minneapolis: (1) George Floyd's murder, and (2) police-involved shootings. We find that following George Floyd's death, arrests and police-initiated calls decreased by 62 and 69 percent, respectively. By comparison, arrests and police-initiated calls decreased by 3 and 1.5 percent following police-involved shootings. We conclude that incidents of police violence generate "de-policing," and the effect is much larger following highly publicized incidents.
More Talent, More Leeway: Do Violence Against Women Arrests Really Hurt NFL Player Careers?
Violence Against Women, forthcoming
This article examines whether arrests for an act of violence against women have a negative impact on National Football League (NFL) player careers and whether this impact has become more negative over time. Framed by criminological deterrence and conflict theories, I conduct a Bayesian multi-level negative binomial regression on a matched pairs sample of all 117 NFL players arrested for an act of violence against women between 2000 and 2019 (n = 234). Results show that the effect of an arrest on player careers is negligible, though it has become slightly more detrimental over time. Player value and performance are stronger predictors of post-arrest career trajectories, and average or better performance negates any detrimental impact of an arrest.
Reducing Racial Disparities in Crime Victimization: Evidence from Employment Discrimination Litigation
Anna Harvey & Taylor Mattia
Journal of Urban Economics, forthcoming
Black Americans are substantially less safe than white Americans, with persistently higher risks of crime victimization. One possible cause of racial disparities in crime victimization may lie in racially disparate law enforcement responses to crime experienced by Black and white victims. We leverage idiosyncratic variation in the litigation of law enforcement agencies for racially discriminatory employment practices to identify changes in the nature of the police response to Black crime victimization. Using data from the National Crime Victimization Survey between 1979 and 2004, and a series of estimators appropriate for difference-in-differences designs with staggered treatment, we find that litigation over racially discriminatory employment practices in law enforcement agencies decreased Black crime victimization by magnitudes ranging between 24 - 27%, but had no discernible impacts on white crime victimization, reducing the pretreatment racial gap in crime victimization by 73 - 82%. Decreases in Black crime victimization appear in the first year after litigation onset, consistent with efforts by litigated departments to address racial disparities in the police response to reported crime.
The Effect of Minority Peers on Future Arrest Quantity and Quality
Columbia University Working Paper, March 2022
A common proposal to improve US policing is to increase minority representation in police departments. The net effect of such policies depends on the direct effect of the minority officers as well as their peer effect on others. I document the effect of minority peers in the Chicago police academy on officers' future arrests by exploiting the lottery system which provides exogenous variation in the composition of academy cohorts. I find that minority (e.g., Black, Hispanic) peers reduce officers' future propensity to arrest minority civilians through a reduction in low-quality, low-level arrests. For example, a 1 standard deviation increase in Black cohort share decreases future arrests of Black civilians for low-level crimes by about 1 arrest per 100 officer-shifts. Additional results suggest that other peer characteristics, such as age and gender, modify the effect of minority peers, which is consistent with peers' preferences for aggressive policing playing an important role beyond their minority status.
David Abrams, Hanming Fang & Priyanka Goonetilleke
AEA Papers and Proceedings, May 2022, Pages 178-183
The standard economic model of police frisks implies that the contraband hit rate should rise when the number of frisks falls, ceteris paribus. We provide the first empirical corroboration of such models of police behavior by examining changes in frisks following the killing of George Floyd in 2020. We find that hit rates from pedestrian frisks rose as police frisks fell dramatically. Using detailed data, we rule out several alternative explanations, including changes in street population, crime, and police allocation. Our findings provide quantitative estimates that can contribute to the important goals of improving and reforming policing.
Contact and Context: How Municipal Traffic Stops Shape Citizen Character
Allison Anoll, Derek Epp & Mackenzie Israel-Trummel
Journal of Politics, forthcoming
Previous research shows that how the state conducts itself influences citizen attitudes and behaviors through direct and proximal contact; we show the actions of state agents ripple out even further. Joining bureaucratic data on a publicly observable state behavior -- racial disparities in investigatory traffic stops -- with survey data, this article shows that residing in a place with extreme racial disparities in traffic stops is associated with depressed confidence in the police even in the absence of more direct forms of contact. This relationship does not extend to participatory behaviors, however, where only personal stop history and proximal contact are predictors. Racially disparate policing practices, then, may undermine law enforcement legitimacy in a community as a whole, but mobilization to change policy appears limited to individuals who more directly experience the carceral state.
The Demand For Protection and the Persistently High Rates of Gun Violence Among Young Black Males
William Evans & Maciej Kotowski
NBER Working Paper, April 2022
We develop a theoretical model to explain both the high level and persistence in gun violence for black males ages 15–24 consistent with the empirical literature. A person may carry a gun for instrumental (i.e., criminal) reasons or for its perceived protective benefit. Discerning underlying motives is difficult. A shock to the instrumental benefit can move the equilibrium to one with a high gun prevalence. The model demonstrates that there are larger returns to reducing the value of guns for crime than trying to reduce their protective benefit, suggesting different policy paths to combat the problem of gun violence.
Racial Disparities in the Wake of Cannabis Legalization: Documenting Persistence and Change
Dale Willits et al.
Race and Justice, forthcoming
One of the arguments in support of the legalization of cannabis is that it would help alleviate racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Using UCR data from Colorado and Washington, we explore trends in cannabis arrests disaggregated by rates using interrupted time-series analysis, linear mixed models, and data visualizations. The results demonstrate a general decline in cannabis arrests for nearly all racial groups, yet these declines were not consistent across racial groups or even across states. Moreover, substantial racial disparities persist following legalization, especially in Colorado. Overall, evidence suggests that while legalization has likely had a net positive effect on overrepresented populations by decreasing criminal justice contact, it is not a panacea and may only be minimally important for addressing disparities.
Driving Public Support: Support for a Law is Higher When the Law is Named After a Victim
Justice Quarterly, forthcoming
Despite the potential symbolic, political, and practical importance of naming a law after a victim, it is unclear whether this practice influences public opinion about the law itself. I conducted a randomized vignette survey experiment on 1,000 American adults to determine if support for a proposed distracted driving law, and the punishment it authorized, was influenced by whether it was named after a victim, as well as the victim’s race, gender, and age. I found that naming a law after a victim increased support for the law and the punishment authorized overall, but this effect was not consistent across all named laws, and instead was driven by specific types of named victims. In particular, results suggest the image of the “ideal victim” may have shifted or expanded to place greater emphasis on African American women, and less emphasis on White women.
‘Curb sitting’: An evidence-based policing practice or an officer safety myth?
David Blake et al.
Police Practice and Research, forthcoming
Law enforcement officers across the country are trained in various tactics and techniques intended to increase the overall safety within a police-citizen contact. One common, albeit controversial tactic is referred to as “curb sitting”. The curb-sitting tactic is generally associated with officers requiring criminal suspects to sit on a curb with their legs outstretched in front of them. The tactic is believed to provide officers additional reaction time to defend themselves from an attack but is also considered unnecessarily demeaning. The efficacy of the curb-sitting tactic has not previously been determined. The current study is the first to evaluate three common variations of the curb-sitting tactic to determine which, if any seated position allowed officers more time to respond to an attack when compared to a subject standing five feet away. Our results show that a seated subject with their legs extended is associated with a significant increase in time to cross five feet when compared to a standing subject. Based on these results, the curb-sitting tactic appears to be an evidence-based method of increasing an officer’s time to respond to an attack. Implications for law enforcement training and tactics, as well as recommendations for future research are discussed.