Sounds bad

Kevin Lewis

June 21, 2019

It's the Phone, Stupid: Mobiles and Murder
Lena Edlund & Cecilia Machado
NBER Working Paper, May 2019

US homicide rates fell sharply in the early 1990s, a decade that also saw the mainstreaming of cell phones – a concurrence that may be more than a coincidence, we propose. Cell phones may have undercut turf-based street dealing, thus undermining drug-dealing profits of street gangs, entities known to engage in violent crime. Studying county-level data for the years 1970-2009 we find that the expansion of cellular phone service (as proxied by antenna-structure density) lowered homicide rates in the 1990s. Furthermore, effects were concentrated in urban counties; among Black or Hispanic males; and more gang/drug-associated homicides.

The Impact of Legalized Abortion on Crime over the Last Two Decades
John Donohue & Steven Levitt
NBER Working Paper, May 2019

Donohue and Levitt (2001) presented evidence that the legalization of abortion in the early 1970s played an important role in the crime drop of the 1990s. That paper concluded with a strong out-of-sample prediction regarding the next two decades: “When a steady state is reached roughly twenty years from now, the impact of abortion will be roughly twice as great as the impact felt so far. Our results suggest that all else equal, legalized abortion will account for persistent declines of 1 percent a year in crime over the next two decades.” Estimating parallel specifications to the original paper, but using the seventeen years of data generated after that paper was written, we find strong support for the prediction. The estimated coefficient on legalized abortion is actually larger in the latter period than it was in the initial dataset in almost all specifications. We estimate that crime fell roughly 20% between 1997 and 2014 due to legalized abortion. The cumulative impact of legalized abortion on crime is roughly 45%, accounting for a very substantial portion of the roughly 50-55% overall decline from the peak of crime in the early 1990s.

Contentious Federalism: Sheriffs, State Legislatures, and Political Violence in the American West
Zoe Nemerever
Political Behavior, forthcoming

Despite the extensive literature probing individual motivations for committing political violence, little existing academic research directly examines the role of local governments in encouraging political violence. I use a federalism perspective to consider how subnational governments can decrease the perceived costs of high-risk political violence against the state. This paper introduces three novel datasets to substantiate my theories: political violence against Bureau of Land Management employees, land transfer legislation in state legislatures, and a roster of constitutionalist sheriffs. As emblems of the contentious relationship between rural land users and the federal government, employees of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) routinely deal with threats, harassment, and physical violence from civilians who are incensed by restrictions on the use of federal land. Counties with constitutionalist sheriffs are 50% more likely to have violence against BLM employees than other counties, even when controlling for other factors. Additionally, levels of political violence are higher in years following the passage of land transfer legislation in the state legislature. Elected officials’ legislative activity, campaign promises, and law enforcement decisions all may promote political violence against federal employees. Incorporating federalism into the study of political violence uncovers how the actions of elected officials at the state and county levels can lower the perceived costs of violence against the national government.

Lethal Force in Black and White: Assessing Racial Disparities in the Circumstances of Police Killings
Shea Streeter
Journal of Politics, forthcoming

African Americans are nearly three times as likely to be killed by police as whites. This paper examines whether this racial disparity is due in part to racial differences in the circumstances of police killings. To assess whether and how these circumstances predict the race of a decedent, I use machine learning techniques and a novel data set of police killings containing over 120 descriptors. I find that decedent characteristics, criminal activity, threat levels, police actions, and the setting of the lethal interaction are not predictive of race, indicating that the police — given contact — are killing blacks and whites under largely similar circumstances. The findings suggest that the racial disparity in the rate of lethal force is most likely driven by higher rates of police contact among African Americans rather than racial differences in the circumstances of the interaction and officer bias in the application of lethal force.

Women in Law Enforcement and Police Use of Deadly Force
Camille Deller & Steven Deller
Women & Criminal Justice, May 2019, Pages 163-180

We test the hypothesis that law enforcement agencies that have a larger share of female officers should experience lower rates of police use of deadly force. We use the Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Statistics 2013 survey of police and sheriff departments (N = 1,983). We measure police-involved violence as the number of civilians killed by law enforcement officers from 2013 through 2015 as reported by the website Mapping Police Violence. Using a variety of empirical estimators to take into consideration the structure of the distribution of police-caused deaths, we find consistent results that a higher share of female officers is associated with a higher likelihood of police-caused deaths. These results are consistent with prior findings within the literature and implies that in order to “fit in” with their male counterparts female officers will use coercive tactics to the same extent.

A natural experiment study of the effects of imprisonment on violence in the community
David Harding et al.
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming

One of the goals of imprisonment is to reduce violence. Although imprisonment has risen dramatically since the 1970s, its effects on future violent crime are poorly understood. This study’s objective was to examine the effect of imprisonment on violent crime in the community among individuals on the policy margin between prison and probation sentences. Drawing on data from a population-based cohort of individuals convicted of a felony in Michigan between 2003 and 2006 (n = 111,110) and followed through June 2015, we compared the rates of commission of violent crime committed by individuals sentenced to prison with those of individuals sentenced to probation using a natural experiment based on the random assignment of judges to criminal cases. Being sentenced to prison had no significant effects on arrests or convictions for violent crimes after release from prison, but imprisonment modestly reduced the probability of violence if comparisons included the effects of incapacitation during imprisonment. These results suggest that for individuals on the current policy margin between prison and probation, imprisonment is an ineffective long-term intervention for violence prevention, as it has, on balance, no rehabilitative or deterrent effects after release.

Causal peer effects in police misconduct
Edika Quispe-Torreblanca & Neil Stewart
Nature Human Behaviour, forthcoming

We estimate causal peer effects in police misconduct using data from about 35,000 officers and staff from London’s Metropolitan Police Service for the period 2011–2014. We use instrumental variable techniques and exploit the variation in peer misconduct that results when officers switch peer groups. We find that a 10% increase in prior peer misconduct increases an officer’s later misconduct by 8%. As the police are empowered to enforce the law and protect individual liberties, integrity and fairness in policing are essential for establishing and maintaining legitimacy and public consent. Understanding the antecedents of misconduct will help to develop interventions that reduce misconduct.

Political Ideology and Concerns About White‐Collar Crime: Exploring the Switch Hypothesis
Amy Kroska, Marshall Schmidt & Cyrus Schleifer
Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming

Objective: Numerous studies show that political conservatives in the United States are more concerned about crime than are political liberals. But, according to the “switch hypothesis,” the direction of the association should reverse when the focus is on reducing and punishing white‐collar crime. Despite the intuitiveness of this hypothesis, however, only one study to date has directly tested it.

Method: We explore the hypothesis using data from an online survey administered to undergraduate, graduate, and law students at a southern university. We include a wide range of controls, including demographic attributes, socioeconomic indicators, street crime victimization, white‐collar crime victimization, and a composite measure of trust in professionals.

Results: As hypothesized, political conservatives are less concerned about reducing and punishing white‐collar crime than are political liberals, and the association is stronger for men than it is for women, patterns that hold with and without the controls. The main effect of conservatism also holds (1) when examined with structural equation modeling, (2) when each item of the dependent variable is examined separately with stereotype logistic regression, and (3) when the sample is weighted to match the gender and race/ethnicity distribution in the population from which it was drawn.

Calibrating Student Perceptions of Punishment: A Specific Test of General Deterrence
Timothy Nixon & J.C. Barnes
American Journal of Criminal Justice, June 2019, Pages 430–456

General deterrence theory assumes objective risks of punishment and citizens’ perceptions of punishment risks are closely calibrated. Yet little empirical attention has been devoted to testing this assumption. Of the few studies that exist, most have tested the calibration with county-level indicators of objective punishment risk. This strategy has been criticized for being too far removed from the individual citizen: why should we expect citizens to know the punishment risks in such a large geographic unit? We estimated the calibration between objective punishment levels and individuals’ perceptions of those punishment levels by analyzing data drawn from a large sample of students (n = 11,085) from 44 schools in Ohio. Multi-level models found the calibration between objective punishment and students’ perceptions is weak and not statistically significant. More than half of our calibration estimates were in the wrong direction (i.e., they were negative) and results from interaction tests did not indicate that the calibration is any stronger among those with the highest levels of self-reported offending. We discuss the implications of these findings for policies rooted in general deterrence theory.

Criminogenic and Desistance-Promoting Processes Behind Bars and Postrelease Supervision: New Evidence From Federal Offenders
Matt DeLisi, Alan Drury & Michael Elbert
Crime & Delinquency, forthcoming

Institutional misconduct has criminogenic implications, whereas visitation, work, and educational involvement have desistance implications, but there is considerable heterogeneity in the inmate population and in the effects of institutional experiences and various programming on their immediate and postrelease behavior. Using a near population of offenders on federal supervised release, the current study examined the effects of criminogenic (e.g., misconduct) and desistance-promoting (e.g., work, education, and visitation) factors occurring within prison along with the effects of importation factors (e.g., arrest onset, federal criminal history rank, and demographics) in relation to functioning/compliance on supervised release. Institutional misconduct and specifically drug/alcohol misconduct reduced postrelease functioning/compliance, while the effects for visitation were limited. Prison work and educational experiences had no effect on supervised release outcomes. The most consistent predictor of supervision failure was age of arrest onset and to a lesser extent federal criminal history rank that is supportive of importation and life-course perspectives.

The Effect of Moonlight on Outdoor Nighttime Crime
Jacob Kaplan
University of Pennsylvania Working Paper, April 2019

The use of outdoor lighting, particularly through street lights, is a common tool for policy makers attempting to reduce crime. Research on the effect of lights on crime, however, are limited as installing or improving street lighting may affect the community in ways beyond merely increasing outdoor lighting. Welsh and Farrington’s (2008) study suggested that improving street lighting may also improve informal social control in the area as it reflects improved street usage and investments in the community. This paper uses moonlight as a unique measure of outdoor ambient lighting that avoids the issue of community cohesion and examines the effect of lighting directly. The amount of actual moonlight a city receives each night is measured using the interaction between the percent of the moon illuminated and the proportion of the night without clouds. This interaction creates significant variation in moonlight between cities and across nights in the same city. Contrary to past research on lighting, this study finds that brighter nights, those with a full moon and no clouds, have significantly more crime than nights without any moonlight. These results suggest that there are heterogeneous effects of outdoor lighting by dosage and that more research on possible criminogenic effects of low dosages of outdoor lights are needed.

The Iowa Gambling Task in Violent and Nonviolent Incarcerated Male Adolescents
Rebecca Umbach et al.
Criminal Justice and Behavior, forthcoming

Previous studies have found impaired affective decision-making, as measured by the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), in various antisocial populations. This is the first study to compare the IGT in violent and nonviolent incarcerated American youth. The IGT was administered to 185 incarcerated adolescent male offenders charged with either nonviolent (38.4%) or violent (61.6%) crimes. General linear mixed models and t tests were used to assess differences between the groups. The full sample performed worse than if they had selected from the decks at random. The violent offenders performed more poorly than the nonviolent offenders overall, primarily because they preferred “disadvantageous” Deck B to a greater degree; however, they did demonstrate some degree of learning by the final block of the task. Adolescent offenders demonstrate impaired affective decision-making. Behavior suggested preferential attention to frequency of loss and amount of gain and inattention to amount of loss.

The Eyes Really Do Have It: Attribution of Character in the Eyes of Killers
Matthew Sharps & Megan Herrera
Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, June 2019, Pages 105–108

“The eyes are the window of the soul” is a staple cliché in many cultures, but is there any truth to this concept, of any potential importance in the forensic realm? The present study addressed this question in two experiments. It was shown that observation of the eyes and ocular regions of normal control individuals, and of serial killers, enabled average respondents to distinguish these individuals clearly in terms of trustworthiness, likability, and general “goodness.” In both experiments, and based on nothing but this observation, serial killers were consistently rated lower on all three indices. No sex or individual differences were observed in this pattern of results. These findings are consistent with current evolutionary and cognitive theory, and may highlight the importance of the perception of defendants by witnesses and jurors in criminal proceedings.


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