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Why Do Increased Arrest Rates Appear to Reduce Crime: Deterrence, Incapacitation, or Measurement Error?

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  • Levitt, Steven D

Abstract

This paper attempts to discriminate between deterrence, incapacitation, and measurement error as explanations for the negative empirical relationship between arrest rates and crime. Measurement error cannot explain the observed patterns in the data. Incapacitation suggests that an increase in the arrest rate for one crime will reduce all crime rates; deterrence predicts that an increase in the arrest rate for one crime will lead to a rise in other crimes as criminals substitute away from the first crime. Empirically, deterrence appears to be the more important factor, particularly for property crimes. Copyright 1998 by Oxford University Press.

Suggested Citation

  • Levitt, Steven D, 1998. "Why Do Increased Arrest Rates Appear to Reduce Crime: Deterrence, Incapacitation, or Measurement Error?," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(3), pages 353-372, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:ecinqu:v:36:y:1998:i:3:p:353-72
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Gary S. Becker, 1974. "Crime and Punishment: An Economic Approach," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 1-54 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. Griliches, Zvi & Hausman, Jerry A., 1986. "Errors in variables in panel data," Journal of Econometrics, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 93-118, February.
    3. Benson, Bruce L. & Rasmussen, David W. & Kim, Iljoong, 1998. "Deterrence and Public Policy: Trade-Offs in the Allocation of Police Resources," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(1), pages 77-100, March.
    4. Polinsky, A. Mitchell & Shavell, Steven, 1984. "The optimal use of fines and imprisonment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(1), pages 89-99, June.
    5. Grogger, Jeffrey, 1991. "Certainty vs. Severity of Punishment," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 29(2), pages 297-309, April.
    6. McCormick, Robert E & Tollison, Robert D, 1984. "Crime on the Court," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(2), pages 223-235, April.
    7. Cameron, Samuel, 1988. "The Economics of Crime Deterrence: A Survey of Theory and Evidence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 301-323.
    8. Levitt, Steven D, 1997. "Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Police on Crime," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(3), pages 270-290, June.
    9. James Andreoni, 1991. "Reasonable Doubt and the Optimal Magnitude of Fines: Should the Penalty Fit the Crime?," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 22(3), pages 385-395, Autumn.
    10. George J. Stigler, 1974. "The Optimum Enforcement of Laws," NBER Chapters,in: Essays in the Economics of Crime and Punishment, pages 55-67 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    11. Helen Tauchen & Ann Dryden Witte & Harriet Griesinger, 1993. "Criminal Deterrence: Revisiting the Issue with a Birth Cohort," NBER Working Papers 4277, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1981. "On the Usefulness of Controlling Individuals: An Economic Analysis of Rehabilitation, Incapacitation, and Deterrence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 71(3), pages 307-322, June.
    13. Waldfogel, Joel, 1993. "Criminal Sentences as Endogenous Taxes: Are They "Just" or "Efficient"?," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 36(1), pages 139-151, April.
    14. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1973. "Participation in Illegitimate Activities: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 521-565, May-June.
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    JEL classification:

    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law

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