Kevin Lewis

October 06, 2017

Evidence that curtailing proactive policing can reduce major crime
Christopher Sullivan & Zachary O’Keeffe
Nature Human Behaviour, September 2017


Governments employ police to prevent criminal acts. But it remains in dispute whether high rates of police stops, criminal summonses and aggressive low-level arrests reduce serious crime. Police officers target their efforts at areas where crime is anticipated and/or where they expect enforcement will be most effective. Simultaneously, citizens decide to comply with the law or commit crime partly on the basis of police deployment and enforcement strategies. In other words, policing and crime are endogenous to unobservable strategic interaction, which frustrates causal analysis. Here, we resolve these challenges and present evidence that proactive policing — which involves systematic and aggressive enforcement of low-level violations — is positively related to reports of major crime. We examine a political shock that caused the New York Police Department (NYPD) to effectively halt proactive policing in late 2014 and early 2015. Analysing several years of unique data obtained from the NYPD, we find that civilian complaints of major crimes (such as burglary, felony assault and grand larceny) decreased during and shortly after sharp reductions in proactive policing. The results challenge prevailing scholarship as well as conventional wisdom on authority and legal compliance, as they imply that aggressively enforcing minor legal statutes incites more severe criminal acts.

The Growth, Scope, and Spatial Distribution of People With Felony Records in the United States, 1948–2010
Sarah Shannon et al.
Demography, October 2017, Pages 1795–1818


The steep rise in U.S. criminal punishment in recent decades has spurred scholarship on the collateral consequences of imprisonment for individuals, families, and communities. Several excellent studies have estimated the number of people who have been incarcerated and the collateral consequences they face, but far less is known about the size and scope of the total U.S. population with felony convictions beyond prison walls, including those who serve their sentences on probation or in jail. This article develops state-level estimates based on demographic life tables and extends previous national estimates of the number of people with felony convictions to 2010. We estimate that 3 % of the total U.S. adult population and 15 % of the African American adult male population has ever been to prison; people with felony convictions account for 8 % of all adults and 33 % of the African American adult male population. We discuss the far-reaching consequences of the spatial concentration and immense growth of these groups since 1980.

Firearm Prevalence and Homicide: An Examination of Urban and Suburban Counties
Matthew Moore
Criminal Justice Review, September 2017, Pages 315-326


Examinations of firearm prevalence and crime have produced mixed results. The mixed research results and lack of knowledge about the amount of firearms in the United States make it difficult for researchers to assess the role that firearm prevalence plays in crime. The current analysis argues that the equivocal results could be due to location type because different locations may define the use and ownership of a firearm in different ways. Densely packed urban centers may be affected by firearm prevalence differently than sparsely populated rural areas. The current analysis created metro, nonmetro, and rural location types to examine the relationship between firearm prevalence and homicide. The findings illustrate that firearm prevalence significantly predicts the number of homicides in metro counties but does not significantly predict firearm prevalence for nonmetro and rural counties.

Can't Stop the One-Armed Bandits: The Effects of Access to Gambling on Crime
Nicolas Bottan, Andrés Ham & Ignacio Sarmiento-Barbieri
University of Illinois Working Paper, August 2017


We study the effect of a large increase in access to gambling on crime by exploiting the expansion of video gambling terminals in Illinois since 2012. Even though video gambling was legalized by the State of Illinois, local municipalities were left with the decision whether to allow it within their jurisdiction. The City of Chicago does not allow video gambling, while many adjacent jurisdictions do. We take advantage of this setting along with detailed incident level data on crime for Chicago to examine the effect of access to gambling on crime. We use a difference-in-differences strategy that compares crime in areas that are closer to video gambling establishments with those that are further away along with the timing of video gambling adoption. We find that (i) access to gambling increases violent and property crimes; (ii) these are new crimes rather than displaced incidents; and (iii) the effects seem to be persistent in time.

An Exploratory Multilevel Analysis of Pedestrian Frisks in Philadelphia
Lance Hannon
Race and Justice, forthcoming


The City of Philadelphia has faced significant litigation related to racial and ethnic disparities in stop-and-frisk practices. The Philadelphia Police Department has made much of its stop-and-frisk data publicly available in the name of transparency and to facilitate independent investigation (the data describe over 350,000 pedestrian stops with over 45,000 pedestrian frisks for 2014–2015). The current analysis made use of this public data set to explore whether the individual-level relationship between Black racial classification and being subjected to a frisk can be explained by associated neighborhood-level factors such as the violent crime rate. Additionally, the present analysis examined whether variation in the violent crime rate is similarly related to the likelihood of being frisked in predominantly Black versus non-Black areas and whether area racial composition affects the likelihood that an officer’s decision to frisk will be supported with uncovered contraband. The results were consistent with theories of neighborhood racial stigma. In particular, the violent crime rate was a significantly weaker predictor of being frisked in Black areas, and, net of a variety of factors at the individual and neighborhood levels, Black citizens and Black places experienced a disproportionate amount of frisks where no contraband was found or arrest made.

Civil Asset Forfeiture, Crime, and Police Incentives: Evidence from the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984
Shawn Kantor, Carl Kitchens & Steven Pawlowski
NBER Working Paper, September 2017


The 1984 federal Comprehensive Crime Control Act (CCCA) included a provision that permitted local law enforcement agencies to share up to 80 percent of the proceeds derived from civil asset forfeitures obtained in joint operations with federal authorities. This procedure became known as “equitable sharing.” In this paper we investigate how this rule governing forfeited assets influenced crime and police incentives by taking advantage of pre-existing differences in state level civil asset forfeiture law and the timing of the CCCA. We find that after the CCCA was enacted crime fell about 17 percent in places where the federal law allowed police to retain more of their seized assets than state law previously allowed. Equitable sharing also led police agencies to reallocate their effort toward the policing of drug crimes. We estimate that drug arrests increased by about 37 percent in the years after the enactment of the CCCA, indicating that it was profitable for police agencies to reallocate their efforts. Such a reallocation of effort, however, brought an unintended cost in the form of increased roadway fatalities, seemingly from reduced enforcement of traffic laws.

Crime Scars: Recessions and the Making of Career Criminals
Brian Bell, Anna Bindler & Stephen Machin
Review of Economics and Statistics, forthcoming


Recessions lead to short-term job loss, lower happiness and decreasing income levels. There is growing evidence that workers who first join the labor market during economic downturns suffer from poor job matches that can have sustained detrimental effects on wages and career progressions. This paper uses US and UK data to document a more disturbing long-run effect of recessions: young people who leave school during recessions are significantly more likely to lead a life of crime than those entering a buoyant labor market. Thus, crime scars resulting from higher entry level unemployment rates prove to be long lasting and substantial.

More Black than Blue? Comparing the Racial Attitudes of Police to Citizens
Ryan Jerome LeCount
Sociological Forum, forthcoming


How are the racial attitudes of police officers distinct from those of the public? How might the officer's own race shape those attitudes? Recent high-profile cases of contested uses of lethal force by white police officers against citizens of color have reanimated a long-established debate about the way(s) that race shapes police contact. While research has documented substantial racial disparities across a variety of criminal justice outcomes, little is known about how law enforcement officers might differ from citizens in the way that they think about citizens of color. Existing studies of such attitudes are often limited by the idiosyncrasies of small and unrepresentative samples. The present study overcomes these limitations by employing the first nationally representative survey comparing citizens and police a range of racial attitudes. Findings suggest that white police are, indeed, more racially resentful, more likely to see blacks as violent, and more likely to minimize anti-black discrimination than are white nonpolice. Black police officers, however, are not significantly more racially conservative than black citizens on any of the measures examined, lending modest evidence to the “selection effect” theory of Police Personality.

The Stability of Implicit Racial Bias in Police Officers
Lois James
Police Quarterly, forthcoming


Research on police officers has found that they tend to associate African Americans with threat. Little is known however about the stability of implicit racial bias in police officers, whose attitudes could be expected to fluctuate based on their day-to-day encounters or from internal stressors such as fatigue. To investigate, this study tested 80 police officers using the Weapons Implicit Association Test (IAT) on four separate occasions. Officers’ sleep was also monitored using wrist actigraphy. Officers’ IAT scores varied significantly across the testing days (f = 2.36; df = 1.468; p < .05), and differences in IAT scores were associated with officers’ sleep (f = 6.49; df = 1.468; p < .05). These findings indicate that implicit racial bias was not stable among officers, and that when officers slept less prior to testing they demonstrated stronger association between Black Americans and weapons. The implications of these findings within the current climate of police–citizen unrest are discussed.

Criminal Background Checks and Recidivism: Bounding the Causal Impact
Garima Siwach
International Review of Law and Economics, October 2017, Pages 74-85


This paper estimates the effect of employment denial based on a criminal background check on recidivism outcomes for individuals with convictions who are provisionally hired in the New York State healthcare industry. Using institutional knowledge about the New York State Department of Health’s screening process, I build structural assumptions on potential outcomes for different subsamples in my data, which partially identifies the Average Treatment Effects. I find a 0 to 2.2 percentage-point increase in the likelihood of subsequent arrests caused by employment denial, with substantial heterogeneity across the sample. Specifically, I find that the a priori highest risk individuals are most likely to be impacted by a loss of employment opportunity based on their criminal background. Policy implications of the results are discussed.

Militarization and police violence: The case of the 1033 program
Casey Delehanty et al.
Research & Politics, June 2017


Does increased militarization of law enforcement agencies (LEAs) lead to an increase in violent behavior among officers? We theorize that the receipt of military equipment increases multiple dimensions of LEA militarization (material, cultural, organizational, and operational) and that such increases lead to more violent behavior. The US Department of Defense 1033 program makes excess military equipment, including weapons and vehicles, available to local LEAs. The variation in the amount of transferred equipment allows us to probe the relationship between military transfers and police violence. We estimate a series of regressions that test the effect of 1033 transfers on three dependent variables meant to capture police violence: the number of civilian casualties; the change in the number of civilian casualties; and the number of dogs killed by police. We find a positive and statistically significant relationship between 1033 transfers and fatalities from officer-involved shootings across all models.

Darkode: Recruitment Patterns and Transactional Features of “the Most Dangerous Cybercrime Forum in the World”
Benoît Dupont et al.
American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming


This article explores the social and market dynamics of Darkode, an invitation-only cybercrime forum that was dismantled by the FBI in July 2015 and was described by a U.S. Attorney as “the most sophisticated English-speaking forum for criminal computer hackers in the world.” Based on a leaked database of 4,788 discussion threads, we examine the selection process through which 344 potential new members introduced themselves to the community in order to be accepted into this exclusive group. Using a qualitative approach, we attempt to assess whether this rigorous procedure significantly enhanced the trust between traders, and therefore, contributed to the efficiency of this online illicit marketplace. We find that trust remained elusive and interactions were often fraught with suspicion and accusations. Even hackers who were considered successful faced significant challenges in trying to profit from the sale of malicious software and stolen data.

Shuffle Up and Deal: Use of a Capture–Recapture Method to Estimate the Size of Stolen Data Markets
Mitch Macdonald & Richard Frank
American Behavioral Scientist, forthcoming


Often overlooked in the measurement of crime is the underlying size of offender populations. This holds true for online property crimes involving the sale, purchase, and use of stolen financial data. Though available data suggests that online frauds are steadily increasing, there are currently no estimates of the scope of this offender population. The current study addresses this issue by using capture–recapture methods to estimate the size of the population participating in stolen data markets over a calendar year. Data analysis involved samples collected from three websites that facilitate financial crimes and frauds. Findings suggest that markets are much larger in size than what can otherwise be observed, are heterogeneous, and that buyers outnumber vendors.

Elevated Prevalence of Suicide Attempts among Victims of Police Violence in the USA
Jordan DeVylder et al.
Journal of Urban Health, October 2017, Pages 629–636


Recent evidence suggests that police victimization is widespread in the USA and psychologically impactful. We hypothesized that civilian-reported police victimization, particularly assaultive victimization (i.e., physical/sexual), would be associated with a greater prevalence of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation. Data were drawn from the Survey of Police-Public Encounters, a population-based survey of adults (N = 1615) residing in four US cities. Surveys assessed lifetime exposure to police victimization based on the World Health Organization domains of violence (i.e., physical, sexual, psychological, and neglect), using the Police Practices Inventory. Logistic regression models tested for associations between police victimization and (1) past 12-month suicide attempts and (2) past 12-month suicidal ideation, adjusted for demographic factors (i.e., gender, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, income), crime involvement, past intimate partner and sexual victimization exposure, and lifetime mental illness. Police victimization was associated with suicide attempts but not suicidal ideation in adjusted analyses. Specifically, odds of attempts were greatly increased for respondents reporting assaultive forms of victimization, including physical victimization (odds ratio = 4.5), physical victimization with a weapon (odds ratio = 10.7), and sexual victimization (odds ratio = 10.2). Assessing for police victimization and other violence exposures may be a useful component of suicide risk screening in urban US settings. Further, community-based efforts should be made to reduce the prevalence of exposure to police victimization.

Short- and long-term effects of imprisonment on future felony convictions and prison admissions
David Harding et al.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, forthcoming


A substantial contributor to prison admissions is the return of individuals recently released from prison, which has come to be known as prison’s “revolving door.” However, it is unclear whether being sentenced to prison itself has a causal effect on the probability of a subsequent return to prison or on criminal behavior. To examine the causal effect of being sentenced to prison on subsequent offending and reimprisonment, we leverage a natural experiment using the random assignment of judges with different propensities for sentencing offenders to prison. Drawing on data on all individuals sentenced for a felony in Michigan between 2003 and 2006, we compare individuals sentenced to prison to those sentenced to probation, taking into account sentence lengths and stratifying our analysis by race. Results show that being sentenced to prison rather than probation increases the probability of imprisonment in the first 3 years after release from prison by 18 percentage points among nonwhites and 19 percentage points among whites. Further results show that such effects are driven primarily by imprisonment for technical violations of community supervision rather than new felony convictions. This suggests that more stringent postprison parole supervision (relative to probation supervision) increases imprisonment through the detection and punishment of low-level offending or violation behavior. Such behavior would not otherwise result in imprisonment for someone who had not already been to prison or who was not on parole. These results demonstrate that the revolving door of prison is in part an effect of the nature of postprison supervision.

Intensive Supervision Programs and Recidivism: How Michigan Successfully Targets High-Risk Offenders
Kristen DeVall et al.
Prison Journal, forthcoming


The United States has witnessed enormous criminal justice system growth in the past 60 years. In response to calls for reform, several jurisdictions have implemented programs that provide intensive supervision for high-risk offenders, swiftly responding to violations with sanctions. This quasi-experimental study is the first comprehensive analysis of Michigan’s Swift and Sure Sanctions Probation Program (SSSPP), an alternative-to-incarceration program. The findings indicate that SSSPP participants had lower recidivism rates compared with individuals sentenced to probation-as-usual. Policy implications and suggestions for future research are offered.

Impacts of nature imagery on people in severely nature-deprived environments
Nalini Nadkarni et al.
Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, September 2017, Pages 395–403


An estimated 5.3 million Americans live or work in nature-deprived venues such as prisons, homeless shelters, and mental hospitals. Such removal from nature can result in an “extinction of experience” that can further lead to disinterest or disaffection toward natural settings, or even biophobia (fear of the natural environment). People who infrequently – or never – spend time in nature will be deprived of the numerous physical and emotional benefits that contact with nature affords. We report on the effects of vicarious nature experiences (nature videos) provided to maximum-security prison inmates for one year, and compared their emotions and behaviors to inmates who were not offered such videos. Inmates who watched nature videos reported feeling significantly calmer, less irritable, and more empathetic, and committed 26% fewer violent infractions as compared to those who did not watch the videos. Prison staff corroborated these findings. This research reinforces the value of nature exposure as a powerful tool not only for corrections administrators, but also for urban planners and policy makers, to promote socially desirable behaviors.

The effect of vacant building demolitions on crime under depopulation
Christina Plerhoples Stacy
Journal of Regional Science, forthcoming


The costs of demolishing a vacant building are often justified on the grounds of crime reduction. I explore this claim by estimating the spatial and temporal effects of demolitions on reported crime in the city of Saginaw, Michigan. To do so, I estimate a model that uses within-block group variation to compare crime after a demolition occurs to before the permit for that demolition was issued. Results indicate that demolitions reduce crime by about 8 percent on the block group in question and 5 percent on nearby block groups, with the largest impact concentrated one to two months after the demolition occurs.

The Long Shadow of Police Racial Treatment: Racial Disparity in Criminal Justice Processing
Jaeok Kim & André Kiesel
Public Administration Review, forthcoming


This article explores racial disproportionality in criminal justice processing in an era of punitive criminal justice policies and mass incarceration. Using arrest data from New York State, the authors compare the racial disparity in prison sentencing with the disparity at arrest while controlling for crime type and criminal history of the arrest population. Findings show that the racial disparity in prison sentencing at the state level is established before courts begin criminal case proceedings. Scholars and policy makers interested in the sources of racial disparity in incarceration should concentrate on the processes that generate crime and arrests. However, a decrease in racial disparity at prison sentencing, relative to arrest, suggests that the practices of courtroom actors still merit scholarly attention.

Terrorism and the value of proximity to public transportation: Evidence from the 2005 London bombings
Isabela Manelici
Journal of Urban Economics, November 2017, Pages 52-75


Terrorism has become a primary concern for city dwellers around the world. This paper uses the 2005 attacks on the London Tube to provide causal evidence of the negative impact of terrorism on the value of proximity to public transportation. These attacks brought major transit stations into the spotlight as high-risk locations. As a result, surrounding communities became less attractive places in which to live and conduct business. I find that house prices closer to the major transit hubs of London fell by 6% for one year. This shock spread to Manchester as well: house prices closer to major transit hubs dropped by 9–14% for three to four years. I also show that new firms are less likely to locate near major stations after the attacks, particularly those relying on foot traffic. Among incumbent firms, those serving customers in person are most hurt by the attacks.

Evaluation of CT's ASIST program: Specialized services to divert higher risk defendants
Linda Frisman et al.
Behavioral Sciences & the Law, forthcoming


Some criminal defendants with mental illness may not be referred to traditional mental health jail diversion programs because they have a history of non-compliance with treatment, or complex personal circumstances such as homelessness. To successfully divert such individuals, Connecticut has developed a specialized program called the Advanced Supervision and Intervention Support Team (ASIST), which offers criminal justice supervision in conjunction with mental health treatment and support services. An evaluation of the ASIST program included a six-month follow-up study of 111 program clients to examine mental health functioning and other outcomes, and a comparison of administrative data for 492 ASIST clients with a propensity-matched group to examine recidivism. Follow-up study clients showed improvements in mental health. Administrative data showed no change in arrest rates, but a significant reduction in re-incarceration. These findings must be viewed with caution due to the quasi-experimental design of the study, but it appears that greater attention to criminogenic needs in addition to defendants' mental illness may help jurisdictions to divert a wider variety of defendants.

Learning the Ropes: General Experience, Task-Specific Experience, and the Output of Police Officers
Gregory DeAngelo & Emily Owens
Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, October 2017, Pages 368-377


We estimate the role that law enforcement officer experience has on the probability of punishment, using a unique data set of tickets issued by the Idaho State Police linked to human resource records. All else equal, officers issue fewer tickets earlier in their career than later in their career. Quasi-exogenous shocks to an officer’s task-specific experience, generated by law changes, cause a temporary reduction in the frequency with which a subset of troopers “use” those laws, creating disparities in the likelihood that individual citizens are cited for law violations. The reduction in ticketing in response to a law change is largest for newer troopers, and law changes later in a trooper’s career have a smaller effect on his use of that law.


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