Keeping Order

Kevin Lewis

March 22, 2024

When police pull back: Neighborhood-level effects of de-policing on violent and property crime, a research note
Justin Nix et al.
Criminology, forthcoming

Many U.S. cities witnessed both de-policing and increased crime in 2020, yet whether the former contributed to the latter remains unclear. Indeed, much of what is known about the effects of proactive policing on crime comes from studies that evaluated highly focused interventions atypical of day-to-day policing, used cities as the unit of analysis, or could not rule out endogeneity. This study addresses each of these issues, thereby advancing the evidence base concerning the effects of policing on crime. Leveraging two exogenous shocks presented by the onset of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and social unrest after the murder of George Floyd, we evaluated the effects of sudden and sustained reductions in high-discretion policing on crime at the neighborhood level in Denver, Colorado. Multilevel models accounting for trends in prior police activity, neighborhood structure, seasonality, and population mobility revealed mixed results. On the one hand, large-scale reductions in stops and drug-related arrests were associated with significant increases in violent and property crimes, respectively. On the other hand, fewer disorder arrests did not affect crime. These results were not universal across neighborhoods. We discuss the implications of these findings in light of debates concerning the appropriate role of policing in the 21st century.

Perceptions of officer-involved shootings by police officers versus civilians
Kathy Pezdek, Tyler Shapland & Jessica Barragan
Psychology, Crime & Law, forthcoming

In two preregistered experiments, we explore how perception and memory for a use-of-force incident differ between officers who participated in the incident live and civilians who later viewed a Body-Worn Camera (BWC) video of the incident. In Experiment 1, responses were compared between online civilians and officers who had participated live in a shooting simulator. Responses to event memory and state of mind questions revealed numerous differences between these two groups. Experiment 2 assessed specific mechanisms underlying these effects with an additional group of officers who participated online. Our results have important implications for the application of Graham v. Connor, 1989. This US Supreme Court decision provides the superordinate legal context for determining whether the force used by an officer was justified. It is important to acknowledge that the perspective of an officer is likely to differ from that of civilians who only view the officer’s BWC recording afterward.

Police militarization and local sheriff elections
Christos Mavridis, Orestis Troumpounis & Maurizio Zanardi
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, forthcoming

We investigate how transfers of military equipment in the United States through the 1033 Program impact the electoral performance of sheriffs that receive a significant share of equipment while directly accountable to voters. To address this question, we have compiled a unique dataset covering 7281 sheriff elections in 2714 counties between 2006 and 2016. Our findings indicate that an increase in military transfers to the sheriff’s office, from no transfers to the 25th percentile, increases the probability of the incumbent being reelected by 5.8–12.5 percentage points. This is due to an increase in the number of votes cast for the incumbent while there is no effect on the total number of voters participating in the election. Our heterogeneity results demonstrate that voters tend to reward military equipment transfers, especially when local newspapers are present and in Republican-leaning small counties, providing novel insights into voter responsiveness in local elections.

An Algorithmic Assessment of Parole Decisions
Hannah Laqueur & Ryan Copus
Journal of Quantitative Criminology, March 2024, Pages 151–188

Methods: Using ensemble machine Learning, we predict any arrest and any violent felony arrest within three years to generate criminal risk predictions for individuals released on parole in New York from 2012–2015. We quantify the social welfare loss of the Board’s non-risked-base decisions by rank ordering inmates by their predicted risk and estimating the crime rates that could have been achieved with counterfactual, risk-based release decisions. We also estimate the release rates that could have been achieved holding arrest rates constant. We attend to the “selective labels” problem in several ways, including by testing the validity of the algorithm for individuals who were denied parole but later released after the expiration of their sentence.

Results: We conservatively estimate that the Board could have more than doubled the release rate without increasing the total or violent felony arrest rate, and that they could have achieved these gains while simultaneously eliminating racial disparities in release rates.

Police brutality, law enforcement, and crime: Evidence from Chicago
Kadeem Noray
Journal of Urban Economics, forthcoming

It is a popular belief that police brutality incidents increase crime either by causing retaliation (i.e. rioting) or depolicing. But, these incidents may also deter crime, which makes the sign of the effect of brutality and crime ambiguous. In this paper, I build a simple model that highlights this theoretical ambiguity and provides guidance on how to use the joint effects of brutality on crime and arrests to distinguish between these three mechanisms: retaliation, depolicing, and deterrence. Using data on excessive force complaints in Chicago from 2011 to 2015, I exploit variation in the timing and location of serious excessive force incidents to estimate the effect of police brutality on crime rates and arrests rates within Chicago. I find that communities that experience serious brutality incidents experience a 2.1% increase in total crime in the month following the incident. These local crime rate increases are roughly five times larger when the victim is black and the officer is white (i.e. when incidents are racially charged). Racially charged incidents also result in large short-term increases in arrest rates (especially for violent crimes). These results are inconsistent with deterrence at the local level and highlight that the joint criminogenic and enforcement response to police brutality varies substantially by the racial composition of those involved. In addition, I also document some evidence of small post-incident city-wide declines in crime and arrests, highlighting the possibility that different mechanisms may matter at different scales of analysis. Contrary to public perception, I do not any find clear evidence of depolicing.

Community Engagement with Law Enforcement after High-profile Acts of Police Violence
Desmond Ang et al.
NBER Working Paper, March 2024

We document a sharp rise in gunshots coupled with declining 911 call volume across thirteen major US cities in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. National survey data also indicate that victims of crime became less likely to report their victimization to law enforcement due to mistrust of police. Our results suggest that high-profile acts of police violence may erode community engagement with law enforcement and highlight the call-to-shot ratio as a natural measure of attitudes towards the police.

Assessing the Impact of Cannabis Decriminalization on Racial Disparities in Chicago’s Cannabis Possession Arrests
Akwasi Owusu-Bempah et al.
Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, forthcoming

Black and Hispanic neighborhoods have suffered the most severe consequences of the “war on drugs.” As the war on drugs waned, cannabis legalization/decriminalization efforts increased across America. A prime example of decriminalization occurred in August of 2012 as the City of Chicago introduced a new law providing officers with option to ticket, rather than arrest, individuals caught in possession of 15 grams of cannabis or less. As cannabis policy continues evolving, it remains to be seen whether or not the trend toward decriminalization will produce equitable changes in drug arrest outcomes across racial/ethnic groups. We employ data tracking cannabis arrests over time by neighborhood to assess the impact of cannabis decriminalization in Chicago and estimate racial disparities in the likelihood of arrest (v. ticket) using two sets of models: within-neighborhood models and hierarchical logistic regressions with random effects. We find that Blacks and non-White Hispanics are more likely to be arrested than ticketed for minor cannabis possession in Chicago following the introduction of the Alternative Cannabis Enforcement (ACE) program, regardless of the neighborhood where the arrest took place. In addition, Black neighborhoods did not experience the same reduction in arrests after the law changed in comparison with racially mixed, White, or predominantly Hispanic neighborhoods. Our findings draw attention to the differential deployment of discretionary policing strategies across neighborhoods of different racial/ethnic composition. Although Chicago’s ACE program has lowered the overall rate of cannabis arrests, major racial/ethnic disparities in those arrests remain and become exacerbated when examining macro neighborhood-level trends.

Serving Alcohol to an “Obviously Intoxicated” Patron
Robert Saltz et al.
Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, March 2024, Pages 168–174

Method: In 2022, 300 licensed on-premises establishments were sampled in nine counties representing the San Francisco Bay Area. From July 2022 to January 2023, PP [pseudo-patrons] and observer teams visited each establishment, and PPs attempted to buy alcohol while displaying obvious signs of intoxication. The outcome of each purchase attempt; characteristics of establishments, servers, and PPs; and month, day, and time were recorded. Descriptive and regression analyses were conducted to address study objectives.

Results: Twenty-one percent of the establishments refused alcohol service to PPs. No establishment or server characteristics were significantly associated with service refusal in logistic regression analysis, nor were month, day, or time. However, service refusal was significantly more likely among female PPs (odds ratio = 3.71, 95% CI [1.67, 8.24], p < .01) and PPs displaying obvious or very obvious signs of intoxication (odds ratio = 9.28, 95% CI [1.99, 43.40], p < .01). There was no significant interaction effect of PP × Server Gender on the likelihood of service refusal.

Pacifying problem places: How problem property interventions increase guardianship and reduce disorder and crime
Michael Zoorob & Daniel O'Brien
Criminology, forthcoming

Crime is highly concentrated at places that lack capable place managers (i.e., landlords and their delegates). In response, numerous cities have instituted problem property interventions that pressure landowners to better manage properties suffering from decay, nuisance, or crime. This approach is distinctive in that it both targets a place and incentivizes those legally responsible to improve its management, yet little is known about the efficacy of such interventions. We assess the short- and long-term impacts of such interventions in Boston, Massachusetts, using matched difference-in-difference analyses. Problem property interventions reduced crime and disorder relative to comparable matched properties. They also led to property investment and landowner turnover, suggesting strengthened place management. In addition, drops in crime and disorder were observed at other properties on the same street, although not at other properties with the same owner throughout the city. This study, therefore, provides evidence that problem property interventions compel landowners to better manage the targeted property and that these effects have a diffusion of benefits on surrounding properties. The effect on place management, however, was limited to the target property and did not reliably generalize to the landowner's other holdings. This study reveals nuance in the ways that problem property interventions can benefit communities.

Us Versus Them? The Problem of Cognitive Distortions in Policing
Scott Wolfe et al.
Police Quarterly, forthcoming

The literature on cognitive distortions offers insight on why we continue to face reform challenges regarding police use of force- and citizen interaction-related outcomes. We used two studies of police officers to determine the extent to which one cognitive distortion -- dichotomous thinking -- was associated with problematic orientations about use of force and citizen interactions. In Study 1, we found that dichotomous thinking was associated with weaker support for de-escalation, procedural justice, and maintaining self-control during hypothetical citizen interactions. Dichotomous thinking also was associated with more support for force-related misconduct. Study 2 showed that officers who engaged in dichotomous thinking were more likely to perceive an immediate and serious threat from watching suspects in body-worn camera videos. Also, they were more likely to believe suspects had greater ability, opportunity, and intent to cause harm. We discuss the practical implications of these findings for policing and police reform.

Degrees of difference: Do college credentials earned behind bars improve labor market outcomes?
Abby Ballou
Criminology, forthcoming

It is widely held that providing postsecondary education programs to incarcerated individuals will improve postrelease labor market outcomes. Little research evidence exists, however, to support this view. To test the effect of postsecondary carceral education credentials on employer perceptions of hireability, the current study uses a factorial design to survey a sample of employers nationwide (N = 2,538). Employers were presented with résumés of fictional applicants applying to a job as a customer service representative at a large call center. The résumés randomized education credentials earned while incarcerated. Results indicate that employers were significantly more willing to interview applicants with postsecondary education credentials relative to applicants with only a General Educational Development (GED) diploma. Although Black applicants who had earned a sub-baccalaureate certificate saw improvements in hireability relative to GED holders, Black applicants who had earned a bachelor's degree did not. In contrast, White applicants benefited both from sub-baccalaureate certificates and bachelor's degrees. Results from a mediation analysis suggest that these credentials signal important information to employers about applicant attributes and that improved perceptions of applicant ability and likelihood to reoffend drive the overall effect. Implications for future research and policy are explored.


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