Enforcing Belief

Kevin Lewis

October 13, 2023

Police Shooting Statistics and Public Support for Police Reforms
Kaylyn Jackson Schiff et al.
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming 


Does providing information about police shootings influence policing reform preferences? We conducted an online survey experiment in 2021 among approximately 2,600 residents of 10 large US cities. It incorporated original data we collected on police shootings of civilians. After respondents estimated the number of police shootings in their cities in 2020, we randomized subjects into three treatment groups and a control group. Treatments included some form of factual information about the police shootings in respondents’ cities (e.g., the actual total number). Afterward, respondents were asked their opinions about five policing reform proposals. Police shooting statistics did not move policing reform preferences. Support for policing reforms is primarily associated with partisanship and ideology, coupled with race. Our findings illuminate key sources of policing reform preferences among the public and reveal potential limits of information-driven, numeric-based initiatives to influence policing in the US.

Does scientific research change minds? Linking criminology and public perceptions of policing
Hunter Boehme et al.
Criminology & Public Policy, forthcoming


This study investigates the impact of scientific research findings on public views of policing topics. Specifically, we conducted an original survey experiment to determine whether research information treatments influence respondents’ views on the effectiveness of the police in reducing crime, defunding and refunding police budgets, and use of body-worn cameras. Our results indicated that presenting confirmatory research information had a significant positive impact on perceptions of police effectiveness in reducing crime and use of body-worn cameras compared to comparison groups. Conversely, presenting “negative” research information had a significant negative effect on these perceptions. Interestingly, neither positive nor negative research information treatments related to defunding versus refunding the police had a statistically significant impact on respondents compared to comparison groups, suggesting that research findings have limited effects on more ideologically complex policing topics.

Labor Market Impacts of Reducing Felony Convictions
Amanda Agan et al.
NBER Working Paper, October 2023 


We study the labor market impacts of retroactively reducing felonies to misdemeanors in San Joaquin County, CA, where criminal justice agencies implemented Proposition 47 reductions in a quasi-random order, without requiring input or action from affected individuals. Linking records of reductions to administrative tax data, we find employment benefits for individuals who (likely) requested their reduction, consistent with selection, but no benefits among the larger subset of individuals whose records were reduced proactively. A field experiment notifying a subset of individuals about their proactive reduction also shows null results, implying that lack of awareness is unlikely to explain our findings.

Deregulation of public civilian gun carrying and violent crimes: A longitudinal analysis 1981–2019
Mitchell Doucette et al.
Criminology & Public Policy, forthcoming 


We utilized the synthetic difference-in-difference method to estimate the impact of adopting a permitless Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) law on rates of assaults, robberies, and homicides committed with a firearm and by other means, as well as weapons arrests, from 1981 to 2019. We stratified permitless CCW laws by whether they previously prohibited violent misdemeanants from obtaining a CCW permit or previously required live firearm training to obtain a permit prior to law adoption. Findings robust to sensitivity analyses suggest that states that lost a training requirement to obtain a CCW permit had 21 additional gun assaults per 100,000 population (SE = 5.2) (32% increase).

Hot temperatures, aggression, and death at the hands of the police: Evidence from the U.S.
Sébastien Annan-Phan & Bocar Ba
Journal of Urban Economics, forthcoming 


We study the effect of temperature on police-involved civilian deaths in the U.S. from 2000 to 2016. We show that both violent crimes and the number of officers assaulted or killed increase on warmer days (>17C), indicating greater personal danger to officers and bystanders on such days. Consistent with these higher threat levels, we find suggestive evidence that fatal shootings of civilians by officers similarly increase on warmer days. However, when we account for surges in officer–civilian interaction, we find no additional effect of high temperatures on fatal shootings, indicating a lack of behavioral or physiological response on the part of officers. Finally, our results for other causes of death show that, on extremely warm days (>32C), the number of casualties associated with the use of Tasers and physical restraints is significantly higher independently of increased interaction between officers and civilians. The results suggest a need to reevaluate the use of Tasers and physical restraint techniques to prevent unintended deaths.

Protest Policing, Normative Alignment, and Riot Gear: An Experiment
Andrew Thompson et al.
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming 


To examine if police expressions of solidary with protesters improve public opinion toward the police, we embedded a picture- and information-based experiment in a YouGov survey (N = 1,150), wherein respondents were randomly exposed to police expressions of solidarity with protesters. We also randomized whether the pictured officers were wearing riot gear. We find little evidence that expressions of solidarity or riot gear significantly affect public affinity for the police or support for accountability reforms in policing. Past studies show that outside of the context of protests, officers’ behavior toward civilians has asymmetric effects, such that positive actions matter less than negative ones. Our findings suggest that this may be true within the protest context as well.

The Hidden Cost of Firearm Violence on Pregnant Women and Their Infants
Janet Currie et al.
NBER Working Paper, October 2023 


Firearm violence is a pervasive public health crisis in the United States, with significant numbers of homicides involving firearms, including indiscriminate shootings in public spaces. This paper investigates the largely unexplored consequences of stress induced by these attacks on newborn health. We use two approaches to examine this question. First, we consider the "beltway sniper" attacks of 2002 as a natural experiment, using administrative birth records with maternal residential addresses in Virginia. The beltway sniper attacks, a series of random shootings in the Washington DC metropolitan area, led to significant terror and disruptions in daily life over a three-week period. We compare birth outcomes of children exposed to the attacks in utero due to timing or having a residential address near a shooting location to those who were not exposed. Second, we investigate the impact of in-utero exposure to mass shootings on infant health outcomes using restricted-access U.S. Vital Statistics Natality records from 2006 to 2019 and leveraging variation in the timing of mass shootings in counties where at least one shooting occurred. Our findings reveal that mass shootings impose substantial, previously unconsidered costs on pregnant women and their infants. Exposure to the beltway sniper attacks during pregnancy increased the likelihood of very low birthweight and very premature birth by 25 percent. The analysis based on national data from mass shootings confirms these findings, albeit with smaller effect sizes. These results underscore the need to recognize the broader impact of violence on vulnerable populations when assessing the true costs of firearm violence. Calculations based on our estimates suggest significant economic burdens, with the additional costs of the beltway sniper attacks reaching $15.5 billion in 2023 dollars and mass shootings imposing annual costs of seven billion dollars. These findings suggest that pregnant women and their infants may require additional support in the aftermath of mass gun violence.

Black Lives Matter’s effect on police lethal use of force
Travis Campbell
Journal of Urban Economics, forthcoming 


How has Black Lives Matter (BLM) influenced police lethal force? An event study design finds census places with early BLM protests experienced a 10% to 15% decrease in police homicides from 2014 through 2019, around 200 fewer deaths. This decrease was prominent when protests were large and frequent. Potential mechanisms behind the reduction include police agencies obtaining body-worn cameras to curtail force and a so-called ‘Ferguson effect.’ Fewer property crime arrests, but more reported murders, were associated with local protests, yet the property crime clearance rate fell.

Impact of a high-volume overdose prevention site on social and drug disorder in surrounding areas in San Francisco
Peter Davidson et al.
Drug and Alcohol Dependence, November 2023 

Background: Between January and December 2022 a multi-service center incorporating an overdose prevention site (OPS) operated with city government sanction in San Francisco. One concern often expressed about OPS is that they may increase social nuisance associated with drug use in the surrounding area, despite international evidence that this is not the case.

Methods: We conducted systematic street observation of 10 indicators of drug- and homelessness-related social nuisance in a 500 m radius around the OPS and around a comparison point in the same city before and after the introduction of the OPS. We estimated the risk that any given street within sampling areas would have nuisance post-intervention relative to the control area using Poisson regression.

Results: Ratio of relative risks of any reported nuisance in the 500 m area surrounding the OPS from pre- to post-intervention to that of the comparison area was 0.69 (95% CI: 0.54, 0.87; p=0.002). The relative risk of drug-specific nuisance was similar to the comparison area pre/post intervention (0.90; 95% CI 0.66, 1.24; p=0.53). The risk of homelessness-specific nuisance decreased around the OPS (RR 0.7., 95% CI 0.52, 0.93; p=0.02) whereas they increased around the comparison area (RR 1.33, 95% CI 1.06, 1.68; p=0.02).

The COVID-19 Pandemic, Prison Downsizing, and Crime Trends
Charis Kubrin & Bradley Bartos
Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice, forthcoming 


California has fundamentally reformed its criminal justice system. Since 2011, the state passed several reforms which reduced its massive prison population. Importantly, this decarceration has not harmed public safety as research finds these measures had no impact on violent crime and only marginal impacts on property crime statewide. The COVID-19 pandemic furthered the state’s trend in decarceration, as California reduced prison and jail populations to slow the spread of the virus. In fact, in terms of month-to-month proportionate changes in the state correctional population, California’s efforts to reduce overcrowding as a means to limit the spread of COVID-19 reduced the correctional population more severely and abruptly than any of the state’s decarceration reforms. Although research suggests the criminal justice reforms did not threaten public safety, there is reason to suspect COVID-mitigation releases did. How are COVID-19 jail downsizing measures and crime trends related in California, if at all? We address this question in the current study. We employ a synthetic control group design to estimate the impact of jail decarceration intended to mitigate COVID-19 spread on crime in California’s 58 counties. Adapting the traditional method to account for the “fuzzy-ness” of the intervention, we utilize natural variation among counties to isolate decarceration’s impact on crime from various other shocks affecting California as a whole. Findings do not suggest a consistent relationship between COVID-19 jail decarceration and violent or property crime at the county level.

The geography of (un)reasonable suspicion: Rethinking causes of racial disparities in police stops
Rachel Lautenschlager
Law & Policy, forthcoming 


In Illinois vs. Wardlow (2000), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that presence in a “high-crime” area is one factor that police can consider when establishing reasonable suspicion to justify a Terry stop. Some legal scholars argue that through this decision the Court propagated inequity in police stops by setting a lower evidentiary standard for establishing reasonable suspicion in neighborhoods with greater numbers Black residents, which are more likely than White neighborhoods to be considered crime hot spots. To assess these claims, I analyze pedestrian stop data from the Chicago Police Department for the years 2016 and 2017. Using spatial regression techniques, I evaluate relationships between neighborhood measures of Black disadvantage, police stop justifications, and “hit rates” of stops. The results suggest that reasonable suspicion is uniquely constructed in disadvantaged Black neighborhoods but that this does not result in significantly different enforcement rates. Based on these results, I argue that policing scholars must reconsider sources of inequity in policing and, in particular, consider the role of the law in shaping these outcomes.

The Effects of Hot Spot Policing on Community Experiences and Perceptions in a Time of COVID-19 and Calls for Police Reform
Christopher Koper et al.
Police Quarterly, forthcoming 


To extend the limited evidence on how hot spot policing (HSP) strategies affect community experiences, perceptions, and attitudes, police agencies in two cities participated in a randomized experiment involving 102 hot spots that were assigned to a control condition (n = 51) or to receive a HSP program emphasizing patrol, community engagement, and problem-solving for 14–17 months during 2019 and 2020 (n = 51). Cross-sectional surveys with hot spot community members were conducted in person before the program (n = 1082) and, due to COVID-19, by mail and internet afterwards (n = 768) to assess program effects on crime victimization, views of crime and disorder, and attitudes towards police. In both cities, the evaluation period overlapped with the COVID-19 pandemic and the national protests for police reform following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis during 2020; in one city, the program was ongoing during these events. Results showed the program had few effects on community experiences and views, though there were some indications it may have improved perceptions of police legitimacy and police misconduct in one city. The findings suggest that HSP strategies do not have harmful effects on community perceptions and might improve some aspects of police-community relations. However, weak program implementation, challenges to survey administration, and the occurrence of both COVID-19 and the George Floyd incident during the study period complicate interpretation of the results.


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