Paying For Crime

Kevin Lewis

September 17, 2021

Homicide, Acquisitive Crime, and Inflation: A City-Level Longitudinal Analysis
Richard Rosenfeld & Matt Vogel
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming 

Building on research by Rosenfeld et al., city-level random coefficients panel models reveal a significant association between inflation and homicide rates that is only partially mediated by acquisitive crime. Inflation is more strongly associated with homicide rates in more disadvantaged cities. The impact of inflation on public safety should be considered when setting and evaluating economic policy. Future research should address the mechanisms, in addition to acquisitive crime, that link homicide and inflation. 

Elevated police turnover following the summer of George Floyd protests: A synthetic control study
Scott Mourtgos, Ian Adams & Justin Nix
Criminology & Public Policy, forthcoming

Several of the largest U.S. police departments reported a sharp increase in officer resignations following massive public protests directed at policing in the summer of 2020. Yet, to date, no study has rigorously assessed the impact of the George Floyd protests on police resignations. We fill this void using 60 months of employment data from a large police department in the western United States. Bayesian structural time-series modeling shows that voluntary resignations increased by 279% relative to the synthetic control, and the model predicts that resignations will continue at an elevated level. However, retirements and involuntary separations were not significantly affected during the study period.

Police Officer Assignment and Neighborhood Crime
Bocar Ba et al.
NBER Working Paper, September 2021

We develop an empirical model of the mechanism used to assign police officers to Chicago districts and examine the efficiency and equity of alternative allocations. We document that the current bidding process, which grants priority based on seniority, results in the assignment of more experienced officers to less violent and high-income neighborhoods. Our empirical model combines estimates of heterogeneous officer preferences underlying the bidding process with causal estimates of the effects of officer experience on neighborhood crime. Equalizing officer seniority across districts would reduce violent crime rate by 4.6 percent and significantly decrease inequality in crime, discretionary arrests, and officer use of force across neighborhoods. Moreover, this assignment can be achieved in a revenue-neutral way while resulting in small welfare gains for police officers, implying that it is more equitable and efficient.

An Absolute Test of Racial Prejudice
Philip Marx
Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, forthcoming

Disparities along racial and ethnic lines persist across domains. Distinguishing among the possible sources of such disparities matters. This article introduces an absolute test for identifying prejudice in the presence of statistical discrimination. In the context of police officers deciding whether to conduct vehicle searches, the key intuition of the test is that each officer’s search decisions and search outcomes generate a point on a concave “return possibility frontier,” (RPF) whose slope equals the officer’s search cost, or personal standard of evidence for conducting a search. Variation along a RPF provides information about search costs, and a discrepancy in these costs across drivers of different races constitutes prejudice. The model and test generalize and unify the existing literature, and the test can be partially extended to the setting where officers vary in the quality of their information, or discernment. Higher discernment generates an expansion of the frontier, and a version of the test remains valid for more discerning officers. Empirically, the test finds suggestive evidence of prejudice against Hispanic drivers and of varying discernment among officers of different races and ethnicities. These results are robust to (and not well explained by) officer experience.

Can Restorative Justice Conferencing Reduce Recidivism? Evidence From the Make-it-Right Program
Yotam Shem-Tov, Steven Raphael & Alissa Skog
NBER Working Paper, August 2021 

This paper studies the effect of a restorative justice intervention targeted at youth ages 13 to 17 facing felony charges of medium severity (e.g., burglary, assault). Eligible youths were randomly assigned to participate in the Make-it-Right (MIR) restorative justice program or to a control group in which they faced criminal prosecution. We estimate the effects of MIR on the likelihood that a youth will be rearrested in the four years following randomization. Assignment to MIR reduces the likelihood of a rearrest within six months by 19 percentage points, a 44 percent reduction relative to the control group. Moreover, the reduction in recidivism persists even four years after randomization. Thus, our estimates show that juvenile restorative justice conferencing can reduce recidivism among youth charged with relatively serious offenses and can be an effective alternative to traditional criminal justice practices.

Are Asian Victims Less Likely to Report Hate Crime Victimization to the Police? Implications for Research and Policy in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Brendan Lantz & Marin Wenger
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming

Anti-Asian hate crimes have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, no research has considered whether crime reporting patterns are different among Asian hate crime victims, relative to other victims. Following this, this research presents an examination of differences in reporting victimization to the police between Asian and non-Asian victims using information from 997 respondents who experienced a hate crime in the first 1 to 2 months of the pandemic. Results indicate that Asian victims are significantly and substantially less likely to report victimization to the police than other victims. Taken together, these results suggest that current estimates of increases in anti-Asian hate crime based on official crime statistics -- although high -- may actually be an under-estimation of the true extent of the problem.

Why birth cohorts commit crime at different rates
William Spelman
Social Science Research, forthcoming

Crime rates respond to age shifts in the population and to changes in current social conditions. A flexible generalization of the characteristic solution to the age-period-cohort problem shows that they also respond to differences in birth cohorts. I used age-arrest data for a representative panel of 16 states to estimate annual differences in cohort effects, then regressed them on 21 covariates spanning a wide range of social, economic, and environmental conditions. Cohort effects explained both the 1960–1990 crime increase and the post-1990 crime drop about as effectively as current conditions; the covariates explained about half of these effects. Cohort criminality was primarily affected by three conditions: relative cohort size; the prevalence of crime during childhood; and the capacity of families and neighborhoods to socialize children. Because all of these characteristics are trending in favorable directions, cohort effects – and crime rates – will probably continue to decline.

Crime and (a Preference for) Punishment: The Effects of Drug Policy Reform on Policing Activity
Adam Soliman
Duke University Working Paper, June 2021

We still know very little about the incentives of police, often due to data constraints and the underlying policy environment. Using geocoded crime data and a novel source of within-city spatial and temporal variation in punishment severity, I am able to shed light on enforcement behavior. I find that in parts of a city where drug penalties were weakened, there is an 18% decrease in drug arrests within a year; there is no displacement of nondrug offenses and majority black neighborhoods have a larger decline in drug arrests. If offenders were significantly deterred by harsher penalties, as the law intended and Becker’s (1968) model predicts, there should have been an increase in drug arrests. My results are therefore consistent with police treating enforcement effort and punishment severity as complementary. I also find that citywide crime and drug use do not increase following the weakening of drug penalties, which calls into question the “War on Drugs” view of punishment and suggests that certain types enforcement can be reduced without incurring large public safety costs.

Can Precision Policing Reduce Gun Violence? Evidence from “Gang Takedowns” in New York City
Aaron Chalfin, Michael LaForest & Jacob Kaplan
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, forthcoming

During the last decade, while national homicide rates have remained flat, New York City has experienced a second great crime decline, with gun violence declining by more than 50 percent since 2011. In this paper, we investigate one potential explanation for this dramatic and unexpected improvement in public safety — the New York Police Department's shift to a more surgical form of “precision policing,” in which law enforcement focuses resources on a small number of individuals who are thought to be the primary drivers of violence. We study New York City's campaign of “gang takedowns” in which suspected members of criminal gangs were arrested in highly coordinated raids and prosecuted on conspiracy charges. We show that gun violence in and around public housing communities fell by approximately one third in the first year after a gang takedown. Our estimates imply that gang takedowns explain nearly one quarter of the decline in gun violence in New York City's public housing communities over the last eight years.

Rapport building and witness memory: Actions may ‘speak’ louder than words
Zacharia Nahouli et al.
PLoS ONE, August 2021

Building rapport during police interviews is argued as important for improving on the completeness and accuracy of information provided by witnesses and victims. However, little experimental research has clearly operationalised rapport and investigated the impact of rapport behaviours on episodic memory. Eighty adults watched a video of a mock crime event and 24-hours later were randomly allocated to an interview condition where verbal and/or behavioural (non-verbal) rapport techniques were manipulated. Memorial performance measures revealed significantly more correct information, without a concomitant increase in errors, was elicited when behavioural rapport was present, a superiority effect found in both the free and probed recall phase of interviews. The presence of verbal rapport was found to reduce recall accuracy in the free recall phase of interviews. Post-interview feedback revealed significant multivariate effects for the presence of behavioural (only) rapport and combined (behavioural + verbal) rapport. Participants rated their interview experience far more positively when these types of rapport were present compared to when verbal (only) rapport or no rapport was present. These findings add weight to the importance of rapport in supporting eyewitness cognition, highlighting the potential consequences of impoverished social behaviours for building rapport during dyadic interactions, suggesting ‘doing’ rather than simply ‘saying’ may be more beneficial.

Begging for Crime? The Effect of State Laws Restricting Access to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families on Unsuccessful Completion of Parole
Tracy Sohoni & Sylwia Piatkowska
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming

Transitioning from prison to the community can pose significant hardships as returning individuals seek to support themselves while searching for work and housing. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is one potential service that can help ease this transition, however, in numerous states TANF is not available to many former offenders. We conduct a fixed effects analysis on laws banning TANF assistance and state rates of unsuccessful parole completion between 1994 and 2016. We find that states that imposed restrictions on TANF saw an increase in state rates of unsuccessful parole completion. Furthermore, we find no significant difference between full bans and partial bans of TANF, indicating that even partial bans may undermine efforts to successfully reintegrate former offenders.

Parole Officer Decision-Making Before Parole Revocation: Why Context Is Key When Delivering Correctional Services
Michael Ostermann & Jordan Hyatt
Criminal Justice Policy Review, forthcoming

Back-end sentencing is the discretionary, administrative process through which individuals on parole are returned to prison for violating the requirements of their supervised release. Parole officers play a crucial role in this process as they are the witnesses to the rule-breaking behaviors of people on parole supervision and ultimately must initiate the back-end sentencing process. This study explores predictors of parole officer decision-making when determining whether to consider a person for revocation or to gear programmatic community-based resources toward them in an attempt to decrease the likelihood of their eventual revocation. Our results indicate that if people released to parole are front-loaded programmatic resources as a part of their release conditions from prison, the odds that parole officers subsequently gear community-based programs toward them decreases by approximately 60%. Other factors such as demographics, actuarial risk levels, and criminal history were not significantly predictive of officer decision-making in this context.

Child Access Prevention Laws and Juvenile Firearm-Related Homicides
Mark Anderson, Joseph Sabia & Erdal Tekin
Journal of Urban Economics, forthcoming

Debate over safe-storage gun regulations has captured public attention in the aftermath of several high-profile shootings committed by minors. To date, the existing literature provides no evidence that these laws are effective at deterring gun crime, a conclusion that has prompted the National Rifle Association to assert that such regulations are “unnecessary” and “ineffective.” Using data from the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Reports for the period 1985-2013, we find that child access prevention (CAP) laws are associated with a 17 percent reduction in firearm-related homicides committed by juveniles. The estimated effect is stronger among whites than nonwhites and is driven by states enforcing the strictest safe-storage standard. We find no evidence that CAP laws are associated with firearm-related homicides committed by adults or with non-firearm-related homicides committed by juveniles, suggesting that the observed relationship between CAP laws and juvenile firearm-related homicides is causal.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.