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Low Priority Laws and the Allocation of Police Resources

Author

Listed:
  • Amanda Ross

    (West Virginia University, College of Business and Economics)

  • Anne Walker

    (University of Colorado at Denver, Department of Economics)

Abstract

There is an ongoing literature in economics examining the deterrent effect of police officers on criminal activity. However, this literature tends to focus on the aggregate number of officers employed versus the relative allocation of an officer's time. In this paper, we examine how the reallocation of police resources affects police behavior and criminal activity using the adoption of low priority initiatives by some jurisdictions. Low priority initiatives mandated that minor marijuana possession offenses be the lowest enforcement priority for police officers. We first test whether adoption of the initiative decreased the arrest rate for minor marijuana possession offenses. If police officers devote fewer resources towards minor marijuana possession crimes, then more resources will be available to deter and solve more serious crimes. This would suggest that if misdemeanor marijuana arrest rates decreased, there may be a reduction in crime rates or clearance rates for more serious crimes, such as murder or robbery. Using city-level data from California, we find that those jurisdictions that adopted low priority laws experienced a reduction in arrests for misdemeanor marijuana offenses. However, we do not find a significant effect of enacting a low priority initiative on the crime rate or clearance rate of more serious felony crimes. Our findings are important for local policy makers, as we do not find evidence that the initiatives had an impact on more serious crimes as was intended by the legislation.

Suggested Citation

  • Amanda Ross & Anne Walker, 2014. "Low Priority Laws and the Allocation of Police Resources," Working Papers 14-06, Department of Economics, West Virginia University.
  • Handle: RePEc:wvu:wpaper:14-06
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    RePEc Biblio mentions

    As found on the RePEc Biblio, the curated bibliography for Economics:
    1. > Law and Economics > Economics of Crime > Crime Prevention > Police Funding

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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Police Resource Allocation; Police Incentives; Drug Policy; Low Priority Laws;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • H1 - Public Economics - - Structure and Scope of Government
    • H4 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods
    • K4 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior
    • R5 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Regional Government Analysis

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