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Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Policeon Crime

  • Steven D. Levitt

Previous empirical studies have typically uncovered little evidence that police reduce crime. One problem with those studies is a failure to adequately deal with the simultaneity between police and crime: while police may or may not reduce crime, there is little doubt that expenditures on police forces are an increasing function of the crime rate. In this study, the timing of mayoral and gubernatorial elections is used to identify the effect of police on crime. This paper first demonstrates that increases in the size of police forces disproportionately occur in mayoral and gubernatorial election years, a relationship that had previously gone undocumented. After controlling for changes in government spending on other social programs, there is little reason to think that elections will be otherwise correlated with crime, making elections ideal instruments. Using a panel of large U.S. cities from 1970-1992, police are shown to reduce crime for six of the seven crime categories examined. Each additional police officer is estimated to eliminate eight to ten serious crimes. Existing estimates of the costs of crime suggest that the social benefit of reduced crime is approximately $100,000 per officer per year, implying that the current number of police is below the optimal level.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 4991.

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Date of creation: Jan 1995
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Levitt, Steven D. "Using Electoral Cycles In Police Hiring To Estimate The Effects Of Police On Crime: Reply," American Economic Review, 2002, v92(4,Sep), 1244-1250.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4991
Note: PE
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  1. Glaeser, Edward L & Sacerdote, Bruce & Scheinkman, Jose A, 1996. "Crime and Social Interactions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 111(2), pages 507-48, May.
  2. Besley, Timothy & Case, Anne, 1995. "Does Electoral Accountability Affect Economic Policy Choices? Evidence from Gubernatorial Term Limits," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(3), pages 769-98, August.
  3. 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.
  4. Andreoni, J., 1989. "Reasonable Doubt And The Optimal Magnitude Of Fines: Should The Penalty Fit The Crime," Working papers 8908, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  5. Ehrlich, Isaac, 1973. "Participation in Illegitimate Activities: A Theoretical and Empirical Investigation," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 81(3), pages 521-65, May-June.
  6. McCormick, Robert E & Tollison, Robert D, 1984. "Crime on the Court," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 92(2), pages 223-35, April.
  7. Cameron, Samuel, 1988. "The Economics of Crime Deterrence: A Survey of Theory and Evidence," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 41(2), pages 301-23.
  8. Craig, Steven G., 1987. "The deterrent impact of police: An examination of a locally provided public service," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 21(3), pages 298-311, May.
  9. Sachs, Jeffrey & Alesina, Alberto, 1988. "Political Parties and the Business Cycle in the United States, 1948-1984," Scholarly Articles 4553026, Harvard University Department of Economics.
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