Police, Crime and the Usefulness of Economics

by on December 13, 2012 at 7:41 am in Economics, Law, Uncategorized | Permalink

In 1994 the noted criminologist David Bayley wrote:

The police do not prevent crime. This is one of the best kept secrets of modern life. Experts know it, the police know it, but the public does not know it.

Economists were skeptical based on intuition but in truth the empirical work from economists at that time was mixed with some papers showing little or no effect of police on crime, just as Bayley argued. Since Levitt’s pioneering paper, however, there have been many papers applying a wide variety of more credible research designs like natural experiments, regression discontinuity, matching and other techniques. Any one of these papers is subject to criticism but as group the results have been remarkably consistent: police reduce crime with a 10% increase in police reducing property crime by about 3-4% and violent crime a little bit more perhaps by 4-5% (average elasticities of .35 and .48 from my review paper).

Two interesting new papers add to this literature. The University of Pennsylvania has a large private police force, some 100 officers who patrol the Penn campus and a substantial fraction of the surrounding neighborhood. The city police also police the Penn neighborhood but the UP police stay within a known (but not demarcated) region. Thus, there are more police on the Penn side of the border than on the other side. MacDonald, Kick and Grunwald apply regression discontinuity to look at what happens to crime around the border region and they find that it drops as one crosses the border. Their measures of the elasticity of crime with respect to police are similar to those found elsewhere in the literature.

Chalfin and McCrary take another approach. I always assumed that the reason standard (OLS) techniques do not pick up an effect of police on crime was reverse causality, places with a lot of crime also have a lot of police. Chalfin and McCrary argue that an even more serious problem may have been measurement error. The usual measure of police is produced by the FBI and the Uniform Crime Reports. CM find another measure produced by the Annual Survey of Governments. The two measures are close enough in levels but the relationship is surprisingly weak when looking at growth rates. Although we can’t say which measure is correct (or if either are correct) just knowing that they are different tells us that measurement error is important and measurement error will bias results downward (i.e. away from showing a significant effect of police on crime.) Moreover, if you know that measurement error exists it’s also possible to correct for it (surprisingly one can do this even without knowing the truth!) and when CM do this they find large and significant effects of police on crime, very much in line with earlier results. CM also show that there is lots of variability in police numbers that is not accounted for by crime so reverse causality is not as big a problem as one might imagine.

Using a range of reasonable elasticity estimates from the new literature and a back of the envelope calculation, Klick and I argue that it would not be unreasonable to double the number of police officers in the United States. At current levels, it’s also my belief that police are much more effective than prisons at reducing crime and with far fewer of the blowback effects. Chalfin and McCrary do a more detailed cost-benefit calculation for individual cities and they also find that many cities are severely underpoliced (and some are overpoliced–the police force of Richland County, South Carolina probably does not need a tank).

Estimates of the elasticity of crime with respect to police are largely consistent across many papers which suggests that the new techniques are more credible.  The elasticity estimates are also important because their size implies that major changes in policy could improve social welfare. I see the empirical economics of crime as one of the more useful areas in economics in which substantial progress has been made in recent years.

prior_approval December 13, 2012 at 7:51 am

‘they find that it drops as one crosses the border’

Maybe the private university police are just a bit more understanding of college hijinks than the taxpayer funded force?

Just something that comes to mind, and something that most people with experience of how universities are concerned about their public image understand. (See college suicide statistics – or the lack thereof – as another example.)

bob December 13, 2012 at 9:35 am

There’s also the possibility of the crime just being displaced to the other side of the border. If crime pays off more on one side of this border than in the other, and crossing the border is very cheap, then are we really preventing crime, or just making the same amount of crime happen, just distributed differently?

Without separating the value creation and the value capture components of such a study, we can’t really say for sure.

Dan Weber December 13, 2012 at 9:58 am

Criminals tend to commit crime nearby; it’s not as fungible as, say, oil markets. So even displacing it for just a few miles may eliminate it.

Rahul December 13, 2012 at 12:17 pm

I really doubt that. When a city cracks down on crime I think criminals do migrate to softer targets. I don’t have hard data though. I’m supposing that the typical career criminal does not have substantial immovable property, well paying jobs etc. that’d tie them down to a community.

Ryan Miller December 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm

The expensive immobile assets criminals have are the networks of fences, dealers, thug help, etc, that are very difficult to recreate when moving. Forcing the criminal to move lowers his productivity.

Also, you don’t treat “career criminals” as a sufficiently fungible category. It’s true that few leave it once they’ve entered. But lots of crime isn’t committed by career criminals, and most career criminals probably go through an extended lower-stakes period first. If that period can be deterred successfully with more cops (which makes sense–longer penalties for small crimes seem cruel and more likely to cause a conversion to career criminality, whereas small crimes are rarely caught, so without long sentences expected value is high) then there will be fewer career criminals to contend with.

dhlii December 14, 2012 at 12:25 am

The study cited is not talking about displacing it a few miles, but about a block.
Further, what you really have is two completely independent communities with a border.
You have UofP with a population not particularly prone to crime, and the area outside of UofP much of which is a really bad high crime part of Philadelphia. The extra UofP police are not preventing crime, they are just intimidating criminals from crossing a border into a more target rich environment.

If you want a meaningful border study, you need two adjacent very similar communities, with different levels of policing, and even then you still may just be displacing crime.

Steve Sailer December 14, 2012 at 2:00 am

Barack Obama always lived within the realm patrolled by the private police force of the U. of Chicago.

Tommy December 13, 2012 at 9:38 am

The Penn police aren’t there to prevent ‘college hijinks’, they’re there to protect Penn students from getting mugged. So, yes, they are more understanding than the city police. But your point is largely irrelevant, anyways, since hardly any Penn kids live outside that border — there are no college hijinks reported on either side, so that is a non-factor in the drop across the border.

In my opinion the drop in crime is due to a near-constant police presence. The Penn police hang out on just about every street-corner at every hour of the day and night. It’s effective, but it would be difficult to replicate on a larger scale.

Ryan Miller December 13, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Sure, but if the effects of police increase on crime reduction are more-or-less linear, as these papers suggest, we don’t all have to go to the lengths of Newton, MA or the Penn campus to realize we should shift spending from prisons to police.

Marc Roston December 13, 2012 at 8:01 am

Which would be more expensive, the pension obligations of a doubled police force, or the expense of the prisoners??

I would CERTAINLY prefer legalize drugs to a doubled police force!

lords of lies December 13, 2012 at 8:33 am

“Which would be more expensive, the pension obligations of a doubled police force, or the expense of the prisoners??”

which would have more unpalatable externalities, the pension obligations of a doubled police force, or the free roaming of the criminally disposed in your neighborhood?

“I would CERTAINLY prefer legalize drugs to a doubled police force!”

strawweed.

Andrew' December 13, 2012 at 8:50 am

Unfortunately some of us have both the pensions and the free range criminals.

I’m not clear on how a doubling will ensure a doubly good management and accountability.

j r December 13, 2012 at 9:36 am

I’ll take the free people. Pensions cost money. Locking up someone as a criminal for non-violent drug offenses or parole violations is really just a self-fulfilling prophecy.

lords of lies December 13, 2012 at 12:27 pm

“I’ll take the free people.”

they always say that until they get knocked on the back of the head by a group of youths polar bearing. unless their name is matty yglesias, in which case all bets for ability to connect the dots are off.

Ryan Miller December 13, 2012 at 1:09 pm

That’s completely non-responsive to the question of whether we should spend more on cops and less on jail to achieve equal or greater deterrence of crime, which is precisely what this post is about.

ThomasH December 13, 2012 at 9:58 am

Why the alternative? Decriminalize drugs (and eliminate wasteful DHS grants) and hire more police (up to the point that the marginal cost of the policeman includng pension = value of crime prevented, of course)

Anthony December 13, 2012 at 11:19 pm

Which would be more expensive, the pension obligations of a doubled police force, or the expense of the prisoners pension obligations of the prison guards?

FTFY

Anthony December 13, 2012 at 11:24 pm

Darn – these comments don’t recognize [s].

Anyway – prison guards are a major cost of keeping prisoners, and are often paid nearly as well as regular police, so the costs of more policing might be substantially offset if it resulted in fewer prisoners.

prior_approval December 13, 2012 at 8:07 am

‘Klick and I argue that it would not be unreasonable to double the number of police officers in the United States’

I really need to keep reading, the humor is fantastic. American crime statistics have returned to the rates of my youth, and the idea that America requires something beyond 1.5 or 2 million police is just too hilarious to contemplate. ( http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_74.html )

Of course, maybe the U.S. can import German police –

‘According to Germany’s Der Spiegel, German police shot only 85 bullets (at people) in all of 2011, many not intended to hit a person to start with – “49 warning shots, 36 shots on suspects. 15 persons were injured, 6 were killed.”

But instead, some people think we need twice as much of this –

‘Meanwhile, in the U.S., where the population is little less than four times the size of Germany’s, well, we can get to 85 in just one sitting, thank you very much. 84 shots fired at one murder suspect in Harlem, another 90 shot at one fleeing unarmed man in Los Angeles.’ http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2012/05/german-police-used-only-85-bullets-against-people-2011/52162/

I’m not sure if ‘happiness is a warm gun’ or ‘may well bring the war within measurable distance of its end’ are the most suitable title for anyone seriously suggesting America’s police forces need twice as many armed officers, to keep us secure in our homes and effects.

Jeff December 13, 2012 at 9:00 am

See GW below who points out Germany has more police per capita than the u.s.

Bernard Guerrero December 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

This exchange made me smile.

DocMerlin December 13, 2012 at 11:10 am

“warning shots” are irresponsible gun use.
Innocents can be hurt by them.

Urso December 13, 2012 at 11:53 am

Anytime a cop fires his gun, there’s a (variable, obviously) chance of hitting an innocent (including, in some cases, the intended target). By that definition, any gun use is irresponsible gun use.

AndrewL December 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I think it’s unfair to use shots fired from NYPD as a metric. it is known fact by every single statistical measure that the NYPD cannot hit the broad side of a barn.

Sean December 13, 2012 at 8:08 am

You should make sure Russ Roberts reads this post–he’s always looking for a case where clever econometrics (rather than just descriptive statistics) has discovered something credible and useful.

Rahul December 13, 2012 at 8:47 am

An Econometrics Question: Would a Grainger causality analysis be able to tell if the Police-force-size time-series causes a change in the Crime-rate time-series?

Or do I misunderstand the application of Grainger causality analysis?

Ray Lopez December 13, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Wikipedia is your friend here Rahul: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Granger_causality

Anecdotal evidence: here in Greece, the police force is small over time, crime rates are small (cause and effect? Or just the way society is? The latter seems to me) but then again if anything ever happens to you–and I’ve personally heard many such stories mostly involving petty crime but some violence too–you’re on your own. If you have a strong support network you can extract revenge via lawsuits or otherwise (vendetta!), but if you’re a little old lady with no next of kin–you’re in trouble. The drawback of not being in a police state, but I prefer it this way. Then again, society here is a little less open than in the USA where you have a big mix and hence the potential for more misunderstandings and crime.

GW December 13, 2012 at 8:10 am

“At current levels, it’s also my belief that police are much more effective than prisons at reducing crime and with far fewer of the blowback effects.”

This is certainly the case when comparing the US with Germany. Germany has around 300 police per 100k people while the US has around 230 and the US’s incarceration rate of 730 per 100k compares to 83 (!) in Germany, with the relative figures for violent and non-violent crime strongly favoring Germany, a country with no death penalty, “life” imprisonment in practice limited to 30 years or so, and comparable immigrant population and marijuana laws.

JL December 13, 2012 at 8:45 am

The big demographic difference between the US and Germany is of course not immigrants but blacks.

prior_approval December 13, 2012 at 10:41 am

Hilarious – but another difference between the U.S: and Germany is the number of Jews living in each respective country. I certainly hope no one needs to be reminded that the reason for this was a government program of mass murder. By a government that undoubtedly fully shared your pseudo scientific beliefs in this area.

Beliefs that almost make American slavery look acceptable, in comparison. Though one just might remember how Americans viewed that purportedy ‘inferior’ stock as American society talked about eugenics, implementing barriers to immigration by the 1920s to keep such hopelessly (and ‘scientifically proven’) burdensome immigrants from ever reaching our shores. Which sounds strange these days, anyone considering Jewish immigrants to be a danger to America’s purity of essence, except for an apparently undying racist and anti-Semetic fringe.

But some things will never change in this comment section, it seems, where such people hold on tenaciously. Which makes it simple to laugh. And wonder why this blog has such an attraction for them.

Cliff December 13, 2012 at 11:51 am

I think the blog has an attraction for smart people who like to review the evidence and decide for themselves, rather than be told by authority what is an acceptable belief and what is not.

Certainly crime rates are higher for African Americans even when controlling for their socioeconomic status. Why do you leap immediately to genetics instead of positing culture?

JL December 13, 2012 at 11:57 am

I don’t know what “pseudo scientific beliefs” you’re talking about. Your comment has nothing to do with the topic (unless you’re suggesting that Jews are particularly prone to crime?!?). I was referring to the fact that the US has a high-crime population, viz. blacks, that Germany does not have. In his comparison of Germany and the US, GW failed to mention this obvious demographic difference. For example, blacks commits homicides seven times the rate of whites. This has implications not only for the overall crime rate but it may also partly explain why Americans favor tougher policing and sentencing than Germans.

Doug December 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Someone mentions the indisputable fact that blacks have higher crime rates than whites, and you immediately leap to comparing him to Hitler.

You’ve just broken Godwin’s law and therefore you lose automatically.

ricketson December 13, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Invoking Hitler is a fair response to a racist comment. “Black” is a racial term, not a cultural term. Even “african american” would be overly broad (and implicitly racist) if you were talking about a crime-prone culture.

Doug December 13, 2012 at 4:24 pm

So your definition of racist is acknowledging that correlation across races exist?

That’s a lot more broad than Hitler. That pretty much constitutes the entirety of human civilization. For example if you asked Americans today whether they believe blacks are naturally better basketball players, I believe 90%+ both black and white would answer in the affirmative.

Surely such an observation would fall under abhorrent racism by your definition. After all 1) we didn’t use the correct term African American, surely if there’s a difference in basketball ability it must be cultural not hereditary. To even suppose that the color of someone’s skin might affect their vertical leap is out of the question. I am sure that recent white South African immigrants to the US can play basketball just as well as Lebron, because they share the same African cultural heritage.

2) We are not talking about a crime situation, but we are talking about a sports situation. Achievement in sports is one of the most culturally prestigious accomplishments in American culture. Success in sports leads to better higher educational options, better mating opportunities, more job offers (many employers prefer to hire those with a teams sports background, particularly at the elite collegiate or professional level), and so on. In fact outstanding sports achievement frequently negates a person’s criminal history, see: B. Roethlisberger

To say that one race is superior to another race in the field of supports denigrates the social standing of the race who is worse at sports. Surely the statement that blacks are better at basketball is as racist as any other by your standards, yet a large majority of Americans would agree with it. By your admitted standards that means the majority of Americans are ready to start greeting each other with the Heil Hitler.

Floccina December 13, 2012 at 3:03 pm

@prior_approval
Perhaps then we do not need to look as far as Germany, we can just do in the rest of the USA what they do in North Dakota to suppress crime.

md December 15, 2012 at 8:08 pm

The best single predictor of homicide by country worldwide, by state in the USA, and among metropolitan areas in the USA is simply % of blacks in population. Do check it out. The correlations are incredibly strong.

Rahul December 13, 2012 at 8:16 am

“Klick and I argue that it would not be unreasonable to double the number of police officers in the United States. “

Isn’t the result of the regression discontinuity analysis essentially local? i.e. A heavily policed university precinct just moves crime to immediately outside the area since criminals are elastic to that sort of migration.

Can one really extrapolate these observed elasticities to predict a national crime-reduction? There’s nowhere then to shift the crime to.

dave smith December 13, 2012 at 9:24 am

I’d wager you are correct. There are big “substitution” effects here. I’d think about it like this: suppose wages were twice as high on Monday and Tuesday and people could choose when to work. I’ll bet you’d find huge elasticities and conclude that a small increase in wage would boost labor supply a bunch.

Sue December 13, 2012 at 8:56 am

The analysis seems to assume that (1) the regular police patrol the area covered by the campus police with coverage equivalent to that of outside that area (Why would they?) and (2) the campus police and the regular police are equivalent forces (resources, training, communication, etc.). I suspect they are not.

celestus December 13, 2012 at 9:00 am

Yeah I’m just not sure that crime is that big a problem any more. Criminologists are more or less like all those Russian experts from the 80s.

The Macdonald et al paper seems like common sense. I went to college in what is more or less an island of (relatively) low crime surrounded by a number of inner city neighborhoods. This was likely due in part to a large campus police force, and it should also be noted that the city’s police had much more of a presence around the college than it did in nearby areas. But I don’t think this was anything other than a ‘redistribution’ of crime.

Paul December 13, 2012 at 9:30 am

Too many prisoners and not enough police. The very obvious solution is to train prisoners to become police.

Andrew' December 13, 2012 at 10:47 am

Not entirely silly for many reasons. I was recently reminded about one of the mafia who had to hide his prior police training so he could be made.

Willitts December 13, 2012 at 11:16 am

A Clockwork Orange.

Steve Sailer December 14, 2012 at 2:03 am

That pretty much what happened in D.C. in the late 1980s when Congress voted to give D.C. the money to hire 2,000 more cops.

kerokan December 13, 2012 at 9:32 am

Publication bias could account for some of the consistency of the results across many papers. How many analyses are done but not published because they find smaller effects than previous papers or what review articles call “the strong finding in the literature”?

Therefore I would be a bit less confident in the techniques.

John Mansfield December 13, 2012 at 9:35 am

For a few years I lived in Livonia, Michigan, a very comfortable town of 100,000 that these days has $29,000 per capita income, 8% poverty, and married couples heading 56% of households. Two miles to the east is Detroit. The local paper frequently reported a sort of police activity that I’ve seldom heard of elsewhere: Shop owners would report thefts, and the police would chase down the thieves who were driving east, and catch them. It did seem that vigorous policing was holding a line keeping Livonia a nice place to live. Places like that are where I would look to find out if there really is an effect.

RmDeep December 13, 2012 at 9:40 am

> Livonia, Michigan

> Livonia a nice place to live

“The racial makeup of the city was 92.0% White, 3.4% African American, 0.2% Native American, 2.5% Asian, 0.4% from other races, and 1.4% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 2.5% of the population.”

explanation found

Dan Weber December 13, 2012 at 10:07 am

This comment (the whole thing, especially the fact that is was made) is an excellent microcosm of the race relations issues in Detroit and its suburbs.

The Anti-Gnostic December 13, 2012 at 11:04 am

If you think the explanation is unsupported you can lay out your argument. If your problem with the explanation is that it was made, then ideology is the trump card and we’re not going to get very far. People commit crime–a natural line of inquiry would be to look at how crime rates compare among differing groups of people. Most studies in this area strike me as strenuous efforts to avoid being titled, “Police, Crime and the Usefulness of Demographics.”

Do you think there’s no rational economic explanation for why white neighbors are more expensive?

Ray Lopez December 13, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Dang, AG you really *are* Peter Brimlow, lol.

Rahul December 13, 2012 at 9:43 am

The two measures are close enough in levels but the relationship is surprisingly weak when looking at growth rates.

Can y and x be close always and yet dy/dt and dx/dt be far? Is this a mathematical feature specific to this data-set or is this just restating the fact that taking derivatives of a time series is a error magnifying operation?

zbicyclist December 14, 2012 at 12:26 am

Just restating, it seems to me.

Noah Yetter December 13, 2012 at 10:11 am

Measurement error will bias the results towards overstating the impact on crime, for one simple reason: crime statistics are collected and controlled by the police . Under-reporting to improve measured crime rates is a well-documented and official practice of the NYPD, for example.

enoriverbend December 13, 2012 at 1:35 pm

True in too-many cases for statistics collected by the police, although this varies dramatically among locales.

However, in a past job, I ran a crime victimization survey (a more local version of the BJS NCVS) and was surprised by how clear the opposite effect was in play. A nontrivial number of respondents were clearly trying to exaggerate crime numbers in the opposite direction — trying to roll in crimes from past years into the survey year, including crimes from relatives and friends into their own personal reported numbers, and the like.

Alex Godofsky December 13, 2012 at 10:22 am

Economists might get more traction on this idea if they didn’t sell the question as “do police prevent crime?” At least be honest and ask “do MARGINAL police prevent crime?”

Tom Hynes December 13, 2012 at 10:34 am

What about security cameras as in England? Are there studies showing that more cameras equal less crime? I suspect they are much less expensive.

What is the relationship between prison population and crime? Is it more effective to keep three prisoners on jail or have one more cop in the street?

DocMerlin December 13, 2012 at 11:21 am

The time series would show that cameras increase crime.
The panel data across england would show they decrease crime.
Its all BS.

Bill December 13, 2012 at 10:52 am

What’s the cross elasticity of hidden cameras?

When you have elasticity measures across many jurisdictions, you would want to know more than police body count– you would want to know if there is community policing, outreach, etc, or just cops cruising the hood between donut breaks.

Brian Donohue December 13, 2012 at 11:07 am

“Gentlemen, let’s get this thing straight, once and for all. The policeman is not here to create disorder. The policeman is here to preserve disorder.”

mw December 13, 2012 at 11:35 am

Yeah but police are government employees and we don’t want those, and whereas it was easy to find a way to give government handouts to private prisons, I’m not as clear on how we’ll force Blackwater on the sheriff. Basically the police plan sounds less workable than the prison plan in the grand scheme of replacing government with tax-payer-funded private contractors.

Andrew' December 13, 2012 at 11:52 am

You don’t have to convince me to have more cops, you have to convince them not to buy the friggin’ tank.

It’s funny, I think Blackwater is part of the government problem. Others see it as part of the non-government problem.

Enrique December 13, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Most of the time, the police are just glorified tax collectors

Roth December 13, 2012 at 1:02 pm

I’m surprised no one has been asking to get more specific on what “crime” is. @Noah Yetter made the point that the actual reporting of crime is fuzzy, but there are also countless “crimes” that are not really crimes at all – the drug war alone has created a huge number of them. I would be curious to see these studies in a context of non-prohibition and see what kind of a difference the police make when we limit our definition of “crime” to violent and/or property crime that is fully and accurately documented. “Keeping people (and our kids!) safe” from all kinds of non-existent, semi-existent, unavoidable, or marginally important threats is a typical fundraising slogan for all manner of government waste, not just the police. I’m definitely not sold.

Also, taking a College Campus as an example of police focus is not really representative. There are so many other extrinsic factors, such as the temptation of a sea of nerds to pick on, the paucity of lunch money those nerds carry, the out-of-placeness a street element might feel in such an environment, the active PSA culture that exists on campus, and so many other intangibles from the perspective of a criminal – and again, are we talking about the campus pot or Adderall pusher, or arsonists and burglars? And of course, we haven’t even begun to talk about white collar crime.

Anyways. . .I’m surprised Alex feels so comfortable in making such a stark recommendation given the scads of unknowns and imprecisions surrounding this subject. I’ve always enjoyed MR for its humility in making strong policy pronouncements. This seems like an outlier in that attractive trend.

genauer December 13, 2012 at 1:04 pm

some comments from Germany:

- The German police has armoured carrriers too
- Many German police cars have a machine gun in the trunk, that doesnt mean that they use it with any frequence, see references above
- the tank from the North Carolina Sheriff is a M113, pre Vietnam age. With the tracks pretty inefficient in urban street fighting, and you take it out with a M2 Browning. This has just scrap metal value. We have much better ones on offer : GTK Boxer, proven in Afghanistan, a favourite with our Saudi customers : – )

Rahul December 13, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I was watching some UK version of COPS and there were bits that had me surprised: Sometimes cops arrived on the scene of an ongoing armed robbery etc. and had to actually twiddle their thumbs till special cops carrying firearms arrived. At other times the cops actually had a gun on them during a pursuit yet needed to get approval from a supervisor over radio to potentially use it.

On the other hand UK cops seemed far too trigger happy about using Tasers; sometimes used on perfectly compliant suspects on the supposition that they might be armed / dangerous.

Don’t know if my observations were typical.but it seemed interesting how different protocols were cf. USA. (I rather prefer the American way with every cop holstered and immediately useful and trusted to use even deadly force on his own judgement.)

prior_approval December 13, 2012 at 1:27 pm

‘Many German police cars have a machine gun in the trunk’

Actually, more along the lines of automatic assault rifles (though in the past, police in pairs in places like the Frankfurt Flughafen did have one office carrying submachine guns). And only highly trained officers are allowed to use them. In contrast, German police do not drive around with a shotgun prominently placed in the front seat.

Self-propelled water cannon (like those used against the Stuttgart 21 protesters) are not really an American concept. Not that using high pressure streams of water against peaceful protesters, like students and grandparents, is unknown in America.

Doug December 13, 2012 at 1:56 pm

The relative comparison here isn’t Germany or the UK, it’s Singapore. Singapore has 240 police per 100,000 about the same as the United States but an far lower crime rate than either the US or Europe.

Of course police matter, but it’s not just quantity it’s quality. Crime of any sort is culturally unacceptable in Singapore. From the biggest, there hasn’t been an unsolved murder in over a decade. To the smallest, a bike theft would produce an actual intense investigation instead of a report.

The solution is simple. Privatize police forces and set contracted pay rates commensurate with the actual measured crime rate (by a third party independent auditor). I would expect a couple of things to happen: excellent investigating detectives, like the cops on Homicide or Sherlock Holmes, would become very highly paid rock stars. The requirement that a cerebral job like homicide investigator require someone who worked as a blue collar beat cop first would be remembered as a ridiculous relic of the unionized public era. Second drugs would become de facto decriminalized since the quickest way to get the highly demanded homicide rate down is to tolerate a rise in the less highly demanded (and therefore less compensated) drug possession rate. Third intense statistical analysis would be used to distribute beat cops to predicted high crime areas. Often these models will result in cries of racial and socioeconomic profiling, but the prevention of crime would be highly effective.

prior_approval December 13, 2012 at 2:08 pm

‘The relative comparison here isn’t Germany’

Well, it is when comparing the total number of bullets shot in the direction of people by German police in an entire year with the idea that America needs to have twice as many police able to fire 90 bullets at a fleeing unarmed man.

In the past, I have noted that this blog might be just one of the most satirical things available in plain view on the Internet. And it is posts like this, where its author thinks that doubling America’s number of police officers would be somehow taken seriously. Without even wondering just what sort of police officers already exist, even in Fairfax County -

‘Salvatore J. Culosi Sr. still can’t believe his son, a 37-year-old optometrist, was a suspected sports bookie. He can’t believe a heavily armed SWAT team fatally shot his unarmed son, Salvatore J. Culosi Jr., outside his Fair Oaks home Tuesday night.

And Culosi can’t believe that the SWAT team’s sudden descent on his son, apparently causing one officer to accidentally fire a .45-caliber handgun once into his son’s chest, is standard procedure for Fairfax County police conducting a search.

“We are outraged that current police protocol would ever allow something like this to happen,” Culosi, 63, said last night. “The fact is that there was zero basis whatsoever for the officers involved to have any weapons drawn in this situation.”

Culosi added: “Sal was alone and unarmed. He was compliant with police instructions. He made no threatening movements or gestures. There was no risk of harm to anyone. Anyone, that is, except Sal.”

A Fairfax police detective had been making sports bets with Culosi for three months, court records show, and on Tuesday night police planned to arrest Culosi and search his townhouse on Cavalier Landing Court. But Fairfax Police Chief David M. Rohrer said a 17-year police veteran with long experience in the tactical unit accidentally fired his gun, killing Culosi.

The officer was not named, and police could not say why his gun went off.

Although police and firearms authorities were divided yesterday on whether SWAT teams are needed for most search warrants, as is Fairfax’s practice, they agreed on another point: Officers carrying guns should not aim directly at anyone or have their fingers on the trigger until they are absolutely ready to fire. ‘

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/01/26/AR2006012602136.html

Just think – twice as many highly trained professionals unable to explain why an unarmed suspect ended up dead when being taken into their custody.

Rahul December 13, 2012 at 2:12 pm

How much of that is the better quality of the citizens and not the better quality of the policing?

Singaporean cops transplanted into the US would hardly work miracles and more likely be a disaster. If Chicago had one homicide a month sure the cops could spend all day following up on a bike theft.

prior_approval December 14, 2012 at 2:45 am

Interesting point – but then, policing in the world’s best armed society also says something about the challenges and costs of a society being so well armed poses, doesn’t it? Including the apparent need to double the number of police officers because it makes some sort of sense to at least a couple of people.`

Genauer December 13, 2012 at 2:13 pm

@ Rahul,

all german cops have their individual 9 mm holster, of course, and given the 85 rounds total in 2011, obviously using them extremely responsible

@ prior
the usage of words submachine / automatic is somewhat different in different places. But it makes it also clear, that a pair of german police have very rapidly a very significant firepower,

@Doug
I am actually NOT happy with “perfect” police scores, as you claim for Singapore. That would make me very afraid of becoming a suspect over there.

prior_approval December 14, 2012 at 2:48 am

Absolutely – it is just that the Frankfurt Airport police face a different tactical situation, which is why they carried submachine guns (something most militaries don’t use often). The automatic weapons available to (some) officers on patrol resemble true military hardware, with much of the same effectiveness.

Floccina December 13, 2012 at 2:36 pm

It seems to me that more police are not only more efficient than prisons at reducing crime but might be more efficient than more welfare, more school spending, food stamps etc. at improving social welfare. Dorm rooms are often small simple block rooms but are nicer places to live than slums because you don;t need to fear aggression nearly as much.

So police are one of the few things that 99% of people agree Governments should do and yet they do a they spend little on it and seem to do a poor job of it!

genauer December 13, 2012 at 3:10 pm

In general, we still believe that a peaceful environment,
and a solid visible police force in tougher spots has a civilizing effect.

Watch for example Doctor Vitali Klitschko, Box World Champion and Minority Whip (LOL)
showing restraint in the Ukrainian parliament.

http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/ukraine-pruegelei-im-parlament-verhindert-abstimmung-a-872674.html

God, we love the 2 Dr Klitschkos here in Germany

John December 13, 2012 at 5:58 pm

I suspect one needs to greatly unpack the data and the type of broad aggregate statement is unjustified. I would suspect the argument holds mostly for urban settings.

As some have mentioned, the issues are much more complex then merely preventing the occurrence of some crimes — there is a question of both penalty and if the act should even be considered criminal.

John December 13, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I’d actually question if economics is offering anything new at all here. The statistics will be better collected and analyzed by a statistician. The interpretation of cost and benefit not something the economist or economics can provide.

True, most economists will have a tool kit that allows them to perform the type of analysis offered here but I don’t see that the analysis is inherently economic is it’s content.

ezra abrams December 13, 2012 at 7:02 pm

speaking of natural experiments
I gather from the news that many cities in the NE and CA (and possibly elsewhere) are reducing, sometimes by large amounts, there police forces – Trenton NJ is the poster child.
This is pretty typical: http://www.cbsnews.com/2100-201_162-20107338.html

I realize that there is sort of a cycle: poverty>fewer police>morecrime> more poverty….
but still, it should be possible to do some good work here

One question: why is this economics, as opposed to poli sci or sociology ?

Steve Sailer December 14, 2012 at 2:12 am

My impression is that one contributor to New York City’s spectacular decline in crime was getting the average cop in the huge NYPD to start putting in more than a couple of hours per day of actual police work.

Similarly, in Chicago in the last century, I often stumbled upon four or six police cars pulled up in a secluded, scenic spot along the lakefront, with the assembled officers gossiping or snoozing.

Steve Sailer December 14, 2012 at 2:14 am

What would happen to the average quality of gun-toting police officer if their numbers were doubled?

Steve Sailer December 14, 2012 at 2:18 am

We may have too many firemen these days as the number of fires continues to decline. Perhaps firemen could be reassigned to police work? I rather like that idea more than lowering police recruitment standards to hire more guys looking forward, like Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street, to a life of awesome kick-assery.

Rahul December 14, 2012 at 4:03 am

Why would we need to reduce standards? Are we out of suitable recruits? Browsing on some of the LEO forums it seems supply is higher than demand. Ok, maybe not enough for Alex’s doubling plan.

John Mansfield December 14, 2012 at 7:52 am

Well, here’s a Washington Post article from 2006, “Police Finding It Hard to Fill Jobs.”

“In the past, some recruitment drives have resulted in questionable hiring. In 1989 and 1990, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, seeking to quell a crime wave, mistakenly hired numerous gang members and people with substantial criminal histories and drug and credit problems. Some were later implicated in questionable police shootings.”

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