Going on offense

Kevin Lewis

September 27, 2019

A field experiment on community policing and police legitimacy
Kyle Peyton, Michael Sierra-Arévalo & David Rand
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming

Despite decades of declining crime rates, longstanding tensions between police and the public continue to frustrate the formation of cooperative relationships necessary for the function of the police and the provision of public safety. In response, policy makers continue to promote community-oriented policing (COP) and its emphasis on positive, nonenforcement contact with the public as an effective strategy for enhancing public trust and police legitimacy. Prior research designs, however, have not leveraged the random assignment of police–public contact to identify the causal effect of such interactions on individual-level attitudes toward the police. Therefore, the question remains: Do positive, nonenforcement interactions with uniformed patrol officers actually cause meaningful improvements in attitudes toward the police? Here, we report on a randomized field experiment conducted in New Haven, CT, that sheds light on this question and identifies the individual-level consequences of positive, nonenforcement contact between police and the public. Findings indicate that a single instance of positive contact with a uniformed police officer can substantially improve public attitudes toward police, including legitimacy and willingness to cooperate. These effects persisted for up to 21 d and were not limited to individuals inclined to trust and cooperate with the police prior to the intervention. This study demonstrates that positive nonenforcement contact can improve public attitudes toward police and suggests that police departments would benefit from an increased focus on strategies that promote positive police–public interactions.

The criminal costs of wrongful convictions: Can we reduce crime by protecting the innocent?
Robert Norris et al.
Criminology & Public Policy, forthcoming

In this article, we examine criminal offending by true perpetrators after innocent people are arrested and convicted for their crimes. After investigating a set of cases in which DNA was used to exonerate the innocent and to identify the guilty party, we identified 109 true perpetrators, 102 of whom committed additional crimes. We found a total of 337 additional offenses committed by the true perpetrators, including 43 homicide‐related and 94 sex offenses. By extrapolating from our findings, we estimate that the wrong‐person wrongful convictions that occur annually may lead to more than 41,000 additional crimes.

The myth of school shooters and psychotropic medications
Ryan Chaloner Winton Hall et al.
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, forthcoming

There has been an assertion in certain parts of the media, especially social media, that the majority of individuals who have engaged in a school shooting were prescribed psychotropic medications prior to the event. To determine if there is any validity to this assertion, the authors of this article reviewed publicly available information regarding individuals involved in “educational shootings” per FBI publications for active shooters from 2000 to 2017. Sources of information included news reports with official citations, official reports regarding events, available court records, and FBI Freedom of Information Act requests. Secondary data‐points were also collected, such as location, number of weapons used, number of victims, legal outcome, and whether the shooter committed suicide. From the information obtained, it appears that most school shooters were not previously treated with psychotropic medications – and even when they were, no direct or causal association was found.

The School to Prison Pipeline: Long-Run Impacts of School Suspensions on Adult Crime
Andrew Bacher-Hicks, Stephen Billings & David Deming
NBER Working Paper, September 2019

Schools face important policy tradeoffs in monitoring and managing student behavior. Strict discipline policies may stigmatize suspended students and expose them to the criminal justice system at a young age. On the other hand, strict discipline acts as a deterrent and limits harmful spillovers of misbehavior onto other students. This paper estimates the net impact of school discipline on student achievement, educational attainment and adult criminal activity. Using exogenous variation in school assignment caused by a large and sudden boundary change and a supplementary design based on principal switches, we show that schools with higher suspension rates have substantial negative long-run impacts. Students assigned to a school that has a one standard deviation higher suspension rate are 15 to 20 percent more likely to be arrested and incarcerated as adults. We also find negative impacts on educational attainment. The negative impacts of attending a high suspension school are largest for males and minorities.

Ban the Box, Convictions, and Public Employment
Terry‐Ann Craigie
Economic Inquiry, forthcoming

Ban the Box (BTB) policies mandate deferred access to criminal history until later in the hiring process. However, these policies chiefly target public employers. The study is the first to focus on the primary goal of BTB reform, by measuring the impact of BTB policies on the probability of public employment for those with convictions. To execute the analyses, the study uses data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997 Cohort (2005–2015) and difference‐in‐difference (DD) estimation. The study finds that BTB policies raise the probability of public employment for those with convictions by about 30% on average. Some scholars argue that BTB policies encourage statistical discrimination against young low‐skilled minority males. The study employs triple‐difference (DDD) estimation to test for statistical discrimination, but uncovers no evidence to support the hypothesis.

Do State Minimum Wages Affect the Incarceration Rate?
Pallab Ghosh, Gary Hoover & Zexuan Liu
Southern Economic Journal, forthcoming

Because of historically unprecedented increases in the prison population since the late 1970s, the United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Using Becker's (1968) framework on crime, this study investigates the causal relationship between incarceration rates and state minimum wages. Our identification strategy consists of a state‐level fixed effects model and Autor and Dorn's (2013) two‐stage least‐squares (2SLS) approach. Using the historical local industry structure, we predict the change in employment shares of manual task‐intensive occupations and use those as an instrument for state minimum wages. The fixed effects and 2SLS estimates suggest that a one‐dollar increase in state minimum wage leads to approximately 12–25 fewer incarcerations per 100,000 state residents. Estimates of the heterogeneous impacts by race and gender indicate that the aggregate impact of state minimum wages is entirely driven by men.

Solving Homicides: The Influence of Neighborhood Characteristics and Investigator Caseload
Charles LoFaso
Criminal Justice Review, forthcoming

The primary theoretical perspectives through which homicide clearance is analyzed do not give explicit attention to the neighborhood context in which people are victimized. Indeed, few clearance studies incorporate neighborhood effects. This study investigates whether neighborhood context influences the odds of homicide clearance in Rochester, NY, net of theoretically relevant victim and incident characteristics. The study also incorporates a direct measure of investigator caseload to assess the influence of organizational characteristics on clearance rates. Findings indicate that homicides, particularly of Black victims, were significantly more likely to be cleared in disadvantaged neighborhoods even as witnesses were less likely to cooperate with police in those neighborhoods. However, the odds of clearance decrease as the number of open cases each investigator is carrying increases. Case incident characteristics and the quality of evidence collected remain salient solvability factors regardless of location. Equally important is maintaining adequate staffing and keeping investigator caseloads at manageable levels. Heavy caseloads impose a significant constraint on the time that can be devoted to otherwise solvable cases and as such are analogous to the constraints imposed on prosecutors and courts by their typically heavy caseloads.

The Relative Influence of Legal Pressure on Outcomes in a Rehabilitation Aftercare Drug Court
Bienvenido Ruiz et al.
American Journal of Criminal Justice, October 2019, Pages 727–745

The concept of legal pressure has been used in research to study the effect threats of increased punishment have on the rehabilitation trajectory of individuals with substance use disorders under community supervision. This study investigates how unequal legal pressures affect the chances of success for participants in a drug court-supervised rehabilitation aftercare program. Using bivariate and logistic regression analyses, we compare the successful program completion rates of individuals charged with felony- and misdemeanor-level offenses. Consistent with the legal pressure thesis, we find that clients under misdemeanor-level charges become more likely to fail probation than those under the threat of felony-level punishment upon transition to community aftercare. Moreover, the higher rate of failure in the lower legal pressure group is strongly associated with their failure to abstain from drug use during the outpatient phase of community supervision. A shift in legal pressure is thus identified as a potential dynamic risk factor in substance abuse aftercare. The implications for community supervision of offenders recovering from addictions are discussed.

Criminal Incarceration, Statutory Bans on Food Assistance, and Food Security in Extremely Vulnerable Households: Findings from a Partnership with the North Texas Food Bank
Ian McDonough & Daniel Millimet
Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy, September 2019, Pages 351–369

Leveraging a unique partnership with the North Texas Food Bank, we are able to collect original survey data from food pantry clients in North Texas to investigate a question that has received little attention due to a lack of data. Specifically, we assess the relationship between criminal incarceration and food security. Our analysis suggests minimal impact of incarceration, broadly defined, on household-level food security. However, differentiating between drug- and non-drug-related incarceration, our analysis suggests a positive causal effect of drug-related incarceration on food security, particularly among U.S. born households. This is consistent with an important role being played by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) since many states ban participation by former drug offenders. To this end, we document a positive causal effect of incarceration on SNAP participation only among non-drug related offenders. The results call into question the efficacy of statutory bans on program participation for those reintegrating into society.

Effect of Gang Injunctions on Crime: A Study of Los Angeles from 1988–2014
Greg Ridgeway et al.
Journal of Quantitative Criminology, September 2019, Pages 517–541

Methods: We use data on the location and date of 46 gang injunctions between 1993 and 2013 and quarterly crimes reported to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) from 1988 to 2014. We estimate the effect of gang injunctions on crime over the short-term (20 quarters) and long-term (108 quarters) using difference-in-differences designs that take into account spatial and temporal correlation. Three gang injunctions were paused during the study period and provide a natural experiment from which we estimate the short-term effect of these injunctions on crime.

Results: Gang injunctions are estimated to reduce total crime 5% in the short-term and 18% in the long-term, most of the effect coming from reductions in assaults. Analyses of the three interrupted injunctions yielded estimates of similar magnitude, providing further support of a crime reduction effect of gang injunctions. We found no evidence that gang injunctions are associated with displacing crime to nearby areas.


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