Kevin Lewis

June 07, 2024

Playing politics with traffic fines: Sheriff elections and political cycles in traffic fines revenue
Min Su & Christian Buerger
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming

The political budget cycle theory has extensively documented how politicians manipulate policies during election years to gain an electoral advantage. This paper focuses on county sheriffs, crucial but often neglected local officials, and investigates their opportunistic political behavior during elections. Using a panel data set covering 57 California county governments over four election cycles, we find compelling evidence of traffic enforcement policy manipulation by county sheriffs during election years. Specifically, a county's per capita traffic fines revenue is 30% lower in the election than in nonelection years. The magnitude of the political cycle intensifies when an incumbent sheriff runs for reelection or an election is competitive. Our findings contribute to the political budget cycle theory and provide timely insights into the ongoing debate surrounding law enforcement reform and local governments’ increasing reliance on fines and fees revenue.

Economic Booms and Recidivism
Ozkan Eren & Emily Owens
Journal of Quantitative Criminology, June 2024, Pages 343–372

Methods: We use the fracking boom as a source of credibly exogenous variation in the economic conditions into which incarcerated people are released. We replicate and extend existing instrumental variables analyses of fracking on how many released offenders return to state prison separately from aggregate crime and arrests.

Results: Our instrumental variables estimates imply that a ten thousand dollar increase in the value of per capita production is associated with a 2.8% reduction in the 1-year recidivism of ex-offenders at the county level. Improved labor market conditions, specifically an increase in wages for young adults, may explain a non-negligible fraction of the reduction in recidivism associated with economic booms. In contrast, we replicate existing work finding that fracking increased aggregate measures of crime and arrests.

Situational and Victim Correlates of Increased Case Fatality Rates in Los Angeles Shootings, 2005–2021
Jeffrey Brantingham et al.
Journal of Urban Health, April 2024, Pages 272-279

The gun assault case fatality rate measures the fraction of shooting victims who die from their wounds. Considerable debate has surrounded whether gun assault case fatality rates have changed over time and what factors may be involved. We use crime event data from Los Angeles to examine the victim and situational correlates of gun assault case fatality rates over time. We estimated log binomial regression models for the probability of death in each year from 2005 to 2021, conditioned on situational and victim characteristics of the crime. Case fatality rates increased by around 1.3% per year between 2005 and 2021 from around 15.9 to 19.7%. Baseline case fatality rates differed systematically by most situational and victim but followed similar temporal trends. Only victim age significantly covaried with the temporal trend in case fatality rates. An individual shot in Los Angeles in 2021 was 23.7% more likely to die than the equivalent victim in 2005. The steady increase in case fatality rates suggests that there were around 394 excess fatalities over what would have occurred if case fatality rates remained at the 2005 level. Increases in the average age of victims over time may contribute to the general temporal trend. We hypothesize that older victims are more likely to be shot indoors where lethal close-range wounds are more likely.

Can Gun Violence be Deterred at Low Cost? Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in New York City
Oludamilare Aboaba et al.
NBER Working Paper, May 2024

Can gun violence be deterred at low cost? We report the results of a randomized experiment of a messaging intervention which was designed to reduce gun violence among individuals under parole supervision with a prior violent felony conviction or firearm arrest. The intervention consisted of a group meeting in which high-risk paroled individuals were notified of the sanction they would face upon reoffending while being offered community resources to support re-integration into the community. The program did not lead to a reduction in gun violence or create community spillover effects but did reduce parole violations by 15%. Potential mechanisms and implications for similar programs are discussed.

Gun Dealer Density and Its Effect on Homicide
David Johnson & Joshua Robinson
Journal of Law and Economics, February 2024, Pages 1–30

We explore the relationship between gun prevalence and homicides in the United States in 2003–19. We create a novel measure of gun density in a narrow geographic area using an underutilized metric: gun dealers. We find that an increase in gun dealer density is significantly and positively associated with increased homicides in subsequent years. We compare estimates from our preferred measure to those found using other gun prevalence measures. We show that the effect of gun dealer density is limited mostly to counties with a high percentage of Black residents and metropolitan areas. We propose that the so-called Ferguson effect -- a sharp increase in violent crime in urban and Black communities after 2014 -- might be largely explained by an influx of gun dealers in and near Black communities rather than a change in the propensity of Black residents to call the police or changes in policing.

Can you Erase the Mark of a Criminal Record? Labor Market Impacts of Criminal Record Remediation
Amanda Agan et al.
NBER Working Paper, May 2024

We investigate whether removing a previously-obtained criminal record improves employment outcomes. We estimate the causal impact of criminal record remediation laws that have been widely enacted with the goal of improving employment opportunities for millions of individuals with records. We find consistent evidence that removing an existing record does not improve labor market outcomes, on average. A notable exception is participation in gig work through online platforms, which often screen workers based on their records but not their employment histories. The evidence is consistent with records initially scarring labor market trajectories in a way that is difficult to undo later.

Gentrification and Racial Distrust in Communities: Evidence from 911 Calls
Uttara Ananthakrishnan, Sharique Hasan & Anuj Kumar
Management Science, forthcoming

The prevalence of racial bias in policing has long concerned social scientists and policymakers. This article studies a predecessor mechanism that constitutes an important source of policing bias in American society: calls by individuals to the police to investigate “suspicious” behaviors, often involving neighbors. We construct a novel data set of more than 39 million 911 calls across 14 U.S. cities from 2011 to 2020. These data, obtained through the digitization initiatives of local governments, provide us with a unique opportunity to study neighborhood-level trust and social cohesion and demonstrate how changes to a neighborhood’s composition lead to systematic increases in the prevalence of “unfounded” suspicion calls to the police. Across a range of specifications, the proportion of unfounded suspicion calls increases as more non-Black residents move into neighborhoods with historically high levels of Black residents. This relationship is exacerbated in gentrifying neighborhoods and those with public spaces that enable more contact between community members. However, we also find some evidence that Black leadership and public support of Black citizens in communities mitigate the association between non-Black residents and the proportion of unfounded 911 calls. We discuss our results and implications for future research and policy.

Understanding Demand for Police Alternatives
Bocar Ba, Meghna Baskar & Rei Mariman
NBER Working Paper, May 2024

While police brutality has sparked demands to scale back policing, public constituencies still have limited knowledge about policing alternatives. In survey experiments, we provide information about -- a database of police alternatives -- and police violence statistics and evaluate their impact on respondents’ stated likelihood of calling the police. We find information about police alternatives increases the likelihood of relying on police in violent scenarios but significantly reduces it in scenarios for which police alternatives exist. These findings hold across political affiliations, suggesting broad support for limiting police involvement to violent crises and investing in police alternatives for nonviolent situations. In a follow-up survey six months later, individuals informed about police alternatives were 12 percentage points more likely to recall that the newly available 988 government hotline is available for suicidal crises, a result highlighting the enduring effectiveness of targeted educational interventions. Our study shows that providing information on existing 911 alternatives results in increased demand for these police substitutes in non-violent situations both in the short and long run.

The End of the Age-Crime Curve? A Historical Comparison of Male Arrest Rates in the United States, 1985–2019
James Tuttle
British Journal of Criminology, May 2024, Pages 638–655

As presented in this article, the overall arrest rate for males in the United States no longer peaks during the late teenage years, contrary to the traditional conceptualization of the age-crime curve. Instead of peaking around age 18 and falling throughout adulthood, the overall arrest rate in 2019 did not peak until age 27. Using a dissimilarity index, the results show that the age-crime curve for overall, violent and property offenses during 2019 differs significantly from that of 1985. However, the age-crime curve is still apparent within the data when examined by birth cohort. It appears that a sudden decline in the proportion of offenses committed by 15-to-19-year-old males is responsible for the shift in the aggregate/cross-sectional age-crime curve.

Predicting Police Misconduct
Greg Stoddard, Dylan Fitzpatrick & Jens Ludwig
NBER Working Paper, May 2024

Whether police misconduct can be prevented depends partly on whether it can be predicted. We show police misconduct is partially predictable and that estimated misconduct risk is not simply an artifact of measurement error or a proxy for officer activity. We also show many officers at risk of on-duty misconduct have elevated off-duty risk too, suggesting a potential link between accountability and officer wellness. We show that targeting preventive interventions even with a simple prediction model – number of past complaints, which is not as predictive as machine learning but lower-cost to deploy – has marginal value of public funds of infinity.

Relationships of State Alcohol Policy Environments with Homicides and Suicides
James Murphy et al.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine, forthcoming

Methods: Using a composite measure of state-level alcohol policies (Alcohol Policy Scale) and data from the National Vital Statistics System from 2002 to 2018, this study applied a Bayesian time series model to estimate the effects of alcohol policy changes on overall and firearm-involved homicide and suicide rates. The analysis was performed in 2023 and 2024.

Results: A one standard deviation change in the Alcohol Policy Scale was associated with a 6 percent decline in homicide rates both overall (IRR=0.94; 95-percent credibility interval = [0.89, 1.00]) and for firearm homicides specifically (IRR=0.94, 95-percent CI=[0.88, 1.01]). There was no clear association of alcohol policy with suicides. The model predicts that a nationwide increase in alcohol restrictions equivalent to a shift from the 25th to 75th percentile of the scale's distribution would result in almost 1200 fewer homicides annually.

The Impact of Affirmative Action Litigation on Police Killings of Civilians
Robynn Cox, Jamein Cunningham & Alberto Ortega
NBER Working Paper, May 2024

Although research has shown that court-ordered hiring quotas increase the number of minority police officers in litigated cities, there has been little insight into how workforce diversity, or lack thereof, may impact police violence against civilians. Using an event study framework, we find that the threat of affirmative action litigation reduces police killings of non-White civilians in the long-run. In addition, we find evidence of lower arrest rates for non-White civilians and more diverse police departments 25 years after litigation. Our results highlight the vital role that federal interventions have in addressing police behavior and the use of lethal force.


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