Government Regulation of Illicit Behavior
Owens, Emily Greene
Evans, William N
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To what extent can government actions reduce crime? I address this question using a combination of aggregate and individual data on federal grants, police employment, incarceration, and arrest records. I begin with a study of the aggregate impact of the Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program that provided grants to states and localities to pay up to 75 percent of the cost for new police hires for three years. In the first chapter, coauthored with William N. Evans, we show that each officer paid for by grant funds increases the size of the force by 0.70 officers. We argue that the size of COPS grants can be used as an instrument for the size of the police force in regressions where crime is the outcome of interest. These models indicate that police added to the force by COPS generated statistically significant reductions in auto thefts, burglaries, robberies, and assaults. In the second chapter I show that not only did COPS grants temporarily increase city police employment, local governments exhibited an asymmetric response to changes in grant support, permanently increasing their police force even after the three year grant expired. Using a stylized model of policing I identify the immediate deterrent and long term incapacitative effects of police officers on crime rates using variation in the size and timing of active and expired UHP grants. My results suggest that larger police forces reduce violent crime primarily through increased incapacitation of offenders. Deterrence plays the largest role in reducing auto theft. In addition to larger police forces, longer sentences have increasingly been used by governments as a means of reducing crime. In the final chapter, I use individual data from Maryland to estimate the incapacitative effect of sentence enhancements. I find that offenders who receive sentence enhancements would on average be arrested for 2.8 criminal acts and be involved in 1.6 index crimes per person if they were released instead. This is measure of marginal incapacitation is substantially lower than existing impacts of average incapacitation, which have been incorrectly used by policy makers to justify the imposition of sentence enhancements.