Looking for Trouble

Kevin Lewis

September 01, 2023

Market Response to Racial Uprisings
Bocar Ba, Roman Rivera & Alexander Whitefield
NBER Working Paper, August 2023


Do investors anticipate that demands for racial equity will impact companies? We explore this question in the context of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement -- the largest racially motivated protest movement in U.S. history -- and its effect on the U.S. policing industry using a novel dataset on publicly traded firms contracting with the police. It is unclear whether the BLM uprisings were likely to increase or decrease market valuations of firms contracting heavily with police because of the increased interest in reforming the police, fears over rising crime, and pushes to “defund the police”. We find, in contrast to the predictions of economics experts we surveyed, that in the three weeks following incidents triggering BLM uprisings, policing firms experienced a stock price increase of seven percentage points relative to the stock prices of nonpolicing firms in similar industries. In particular, firms producing surveillance technology and police accountability tools experienced higher returns following BLM activism–related events. Furthermore, policing firms’ fundamentals, such as sales, improved after the murder of George Floyd, suggesting that policing firms’ future performances bore out investors' positive expectations following incidents triggering BLM uprisings. Our research shows how -- despite BLM’s calls to reduce investment in policing and explore alternative public safety approaches -- the financial market has translated high-profile violence against Black civilians and calls for systemic change into shareholder gains and additional revenues for police suppliers.

The Impact of Incarceration on Employment, Earnings, and Tax Filing
Andrew Garin et al.
University of Chicago Working Paper, August 2023 


We study the effect of incarceration on wages, self-employment, and taxes and transfers in North Carolina and Ohio using two quasi-experimental research designs: discontinuities in sentencing guidelines and random assignment to judges. Across both states, incarceration generates short-term drops in economic activity while individuals remain in prison. As a result, a year-long sentence decreases cumulative earnings over five years by 13%. Beyond five years, however, there is no evidence of lower employment, wage earnings, or self-employment in either state, as well as among defendants with no prior incarceration history. These results suggest that upstream factors, such as other types of criminal justice interactions or pre-existing labor market detachment, are more likely to be the cause of low earnings among the previously incarcerated, who we estimate would earn $5,000 per year on average if spared a prison sentence.

The Residue of Imprisonment: Prisoner Reentry and Carceral Gang Spillover
David Pyrooz
Justice Quarterly, forthcoming 


What happens to the gang ties of people when they leave prison and return to the community? There is much speculation but little empirical research concerning carceral gang spillover, which refers to the reproduction of prison gang associations, identities, politics, and structures in communities. This study examined continuity and change in gang embeddedness in a representative sample of 802 men in Texas interviewed in prison and reinterviewed twice upon release. Based on a series of multilevel models this study arrived at four main conclusions. First, prisons are a vector of gang activity. Embeddedness in gangs dropped markedly after release from prison and continued to recede with temporal distance from prison. Second, the residue of imprisonment was moderated by pre-release gang status. Negative linear trends were stronger for active gang members and weaker for former and never gang members. Third, a temporary surge in gang identification occurred for active and former gang members despite continued declines in gang associations, reflecting a behavioral-cognitive decoupling. Finally, the types of groups with which prisoners affiliated contoured trajectories of gang embeddedness. The declining significance of gangs with prisoner reentry opens productive lines of inquiry on carceral gang spillover and offers policy and practice guidance concerning reentering populations.

A Behavioural Theory of Discrimination in Policing
Ryan Hübert & Andrew Little
Economic Journal, forthcoming 


A large economic literature studies whether racial disparities in policing are explained by animus or by beliefs about group crime rates. But what if these beliefs are incorrect? We analyse a model where officers form beliefs using crime statistics, but do not properly account for the fact that they will detect more crime in more heavily policed communities. This creates a feedback loop where officers over-police groups that they (incorrectly) believe exhibit high crime rates. This inferential mistake can exacerbate discrimination even among officers with no animus and who sincerely believe that disparities are driven by real differences in crime rates.

Do Cops Know Who to Stop? Assessing Optimizing Models of Police Behavior with a Natural Experiment
David Abrams, Hanming Fang & Priyanka Goonetilleke
NBER Working Paper, August 2023 


The standard economic model of police stops implies that the contraband hit rate should rise when the number of stops or searches per officer falls, ceteris paribus. We provide empirical corroboration of such optimizing models of police behavior by examining changes in stops and frisks around two extraordinary events of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic onset and the nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd. We find that hit rates from pedestrian and vehicle stops generally rose as stops and frisks fell dramatically. Using detailed data, we are able to rule out a number of alternative explanations, including changes in street population, crime, police allocation, and policing intensity. We find mixed evidence about the changes in racial disparities, and evidence that police stops do not decrease crime, at least in the short run. The results are robust to a number of different specifications. Our findings provide quantitative estimates that can contribute to the important goals of improving and reforming policing.

Depolicing in Chicago: Assessing the Quantity and Quality of Policing after the Fatal Police Shooting of Laquan McDonald
Ashley Muchow et al.
Justice Quarterly, forthcoming


The release of dashcam footage showing a Chicago Police Department (CPD) officer fatally shooting 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in 2015 placed extraordinary scrutiny on CPD to avoid another controversial case of police misconduct. Using data on arrests as well as traffic stops and searches, we assess whether the quantity and quality of policing in Chicago changed after the video documenting this vivid incident of deadly force was released. We find that while both felony and misdemeanor arrest rates declined after Laquan’s murder was publicized, this event had no discernable impact on traffic stop rates, contraband hit rates, or the ratio of felony to misdemeanor arrests. Supplemental analyses reveal that declines in felony arrest rates were most pronounced in majority-Black districts due to reductions in drug possession and firearm arrests. Our findings provide nuanced evidence of a depolicing effect that may reflect attempts by CPD to reclaim legitimacy following this pivotal event.

Did Changes to Disciplinary Segregation Policy Affect Rates of Institutional Misconduct?
Susan Mcneeley
Criminal Justice and Behavior, forthcoming 


Due to concerns about the harmful effects of restrictive housing, the Minnesota Department of Corrections reduced the maximum disciplinary segregation sentence length from 720 days (about 2 years) to 90 days in September 2016. Then, in response to a perceived increase in violence within the facilities, the policy was changed again in July 2019 to allow for maximum segregation sentences of nearly a year for the most serious offenses. This study employs a quasi-experimental design to empirically test whether and how these changes affected total misconduct, violent misconduct, and incarcerated-person-on-staff assault within Minnesota prisons. The results of interrupted time series analyses showed a moderate, statistically significant initial increase in violent misconduct after the reduction in segregation sentence length in September 2016. There were also statistically significant and larger initial increases in both violent and total misconduct after the July 2019 increase in segregation sentence length for serious infractions.

False proxies for enforcement distortions in “policing for profit” research
Murat Mungan
Economics Letters, September 2023 


Concerns about law enforcer incentives being affected by a desire to raise revenue for their departments or other governmental units has led to considerable research. Part of this scholarship attempts to identify a causal relationship between monetary incentives and distortions in enforcer behavior. Because enforcer behavior is often unobservable, they rely on proxies like arrests or citations to infer distortions in behavior. I construct a simple model which reveals that in general there is no meaningful relationship between these measures and enforcer incentives or behavior, and therefore these measures may be ‘false proxies’.

How to overcome the cost of a criminal record for getting hired
Mateus Santos, Chae Jaynes & Danielle Thomas
Criminology, August 2023, Pages 582-621 


Many theories emphasize how employment is protective against criminal recidivism, yet a criminal record is a major barrier for getting hired. We asked 591 managers to make hypothetical hiring decisions between two applicants whose key difference was the presence or absence of a criminal conviction. In addition, we randomly manipulated the education, references, wage, or experience of the applicant with the criminal record to identify which manipulations can offset the cost of the record on an applicant's probability of being selected. We found that, when credentials were the same, the applicant with a criminal record was unlikely to be hired. That applicant, however, could become likely to be hired (i.e., the likelihood crossed 50 percent) by having at least 1 year of relevant experience, a GED or a college degree, or references from a former employer or a professor. Incomplete degrees, references from criminal justice professionals, or wage discounts did not make the applicant with the record likely to be hired. Findings confirm that a criminal record carries a high employability cost but also indicate that this cost can be superseded by specific credentials that signal an applicant's reliability, which can be provided by existing programs and institutions.

The Corner, the Crew, and the Digital Street: Multiplex Networks of Gang Online-Offline Conflict Dynamics in the Digital Age
Yuan Hsiao, John Leverso & Andrew Papachristos
American Sociological Review, August 2023, Pages 709-741 


Social media is increasingly intertwined into people’s lives, spurring questions about the relationships between online behavior and offline actions. We advance knowledge in conflict dynamics by using a multiplex network framework that conceptualizes online and offline gang relationships as co-constitutive networks -- online and offline relationships often overlap and entangle in complex ways that influence behavior in both the virtual and real worlds. We propose a mixed-methods abductive approach for digital data that uses qualitative analyses to challenge and corroborate quantitative analyses of online gang conflict. Synthesizing data from Facebook posts by alleged gang members, maps of gang territory, and police records of offline shooting events, we show that online gang conflicts are not random attacks but targeted network relationships, and such online relationships are dependent on offline geographic relationships and shooting history relationships between gangs. Our mixed-methods approach further shows via qualitative analyses that the statistical network associations are based on cultural-specific language surrounding gang names and symbols, neighborhood streets, and prominent gang members. Our approach underscores how mixed-methods and qualitative approaches are essential in unpacking “big data” and computational methods in understanding the multiplex nature of group conflict.

Patrolling the largest drug market on the eastern seaboard: A synthetic control analysis on the impact of a police bicycle unit
Daniel Lawrence
Criminology & Public Policy, August 2023, Pages 517-541 


This study employed a microsynthetic control method to evaluate the impact of the newly introduced bicycle patrol unit in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, which is well-known as a major drug market. The findings reveal that the bicycle patrol unit led to a notable reduction in social disorder crimes, which was one of the primary objectives of the patrol officers. However, it also resulted in a significant increase in the number of narcotic crimes, violent person crimes, and shooting offenses. The amount of total crimes and property crimes remained unchanged.

How does technology-based monitoring affect street-level bureaucrats' behavior? An analysis of body-worn cameras and police actions
Inkyu Kang
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, forthcoming 


Body-worn cameras may produce varying effects on police behavior, depending on the agency-specific accountability context in which the technology adoption is embedded. The cameras may encourage coercive police actions when acquired to incentivize performance, such as by protecting officers from false complaints. By contrast, when acquired to enhance procedural accountability, such as by enabling closer scrutiny of officer misconduct, the cameras may discourage coercive police actions. Based on this framework, this study examined the case of the New Orleans Police Department, an agency that implemented a body-worn camera program to enhance both performance and procedural accountability. Results of Bayesian structural time-series modeling with synthetic control show that the program increased the number of investigatory stops and follow-up measures (i.e., frisk, search, citation, arrest) while decreasing the ratio of more-to-less coercive measures during stops (i.e., arrest/citation-to-warning ratio and search-to-frisk ratio). However, the program had a null effect on the minority-to-White suspect ratio, despite the agency's bias-free policing initiative. The percentage of frisks and searches detecting drugs or weapons also declined. A broader implication of the findings is that technology-based monitoring mechanisms are important, but not a silver bullet for improving the behavior of street-level bureaucrats.


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