Safe Spaces

Kevin Lewis

December 02, 2022

The Impact of Police Killings on Proximal Voter Turnout
Agustin Markarian
American Politics Research, forthcoming 


This paper studies how spatial proximity to pre-election police killings affects voter turnout. I argue that incidents of police violence have neighborhood-level effects. Nearby voters are more likely to learn about proximal killings than those further away. If perceived as unjust, police killings teach political lessons that reduce voters’ trust in government and political efficacy. In turn, this impacts voter turnout. Observing the 2016 presidential election, I test this theory using geolocated voter data and a difference-in-differences design with matched groups. I find that pre-election police killings reduce voter turnout by 3 percentage points in the killings’ one-mile radius. Space and race matter. Police killings reduce Black voter turnout by 5.9 percentage points in the killings’ one-mile radius, but Black voters one to two miles away from the killings are unaffected. However, police killings do not affect White and Latino voter turnout regardless of the distance.

Activity-adjusted crime rates show that public safety worsened in 2020
Maxim Massenkoff & Aaron Chalfin
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 15 November 2022 


This paper argues that changes in human activity during the COVID-19 pandemic led to an unusual divergence between crime rates and victimization risk in US cities. Most violent crimes declined during the pandemic. However, analysis using data on activity shows that the risk of street crime victimization was elevated throughout 2020. People in public spaces were 15 to 30% more likely to be robbed or assaulted. This increase is unlikely to be explained by changes in crime reporting or selection into outdoor activities by potential victims. Traditional crime rates may present a misleading view of the recent changes in public safety.

A New Racial Disparity in Traffic Fatalities
Aaron Chalfin & Maxim Massenkoff
NBER Working Paper, November 2022 


In 2015, for the first time in nearly forty years, the rate of motor vehicle fatalities for Black Americans exceeded that of white Americans. By 2020, the gap in death rates stood at 34%, accounting for approximately 4,000 excess deaths between 2014 and 2020. This disproportionate increase occurred in nearly all states, in rural as well as urban areas, and was shared by drivers of all ages and genders. We consider a variety of potential explanations for the emerging race gap including race-specific changes in time spent driving, the circumstances of driving, the quality of medical care for crash victims, decreases in other types of mortality, changes in policing, and risky driving behaviors such as speeding, driving without a seat belt and driving while intoxicated. We can rule out many of these factors as important contributors to the race gap, but find evidence for two of them. The first is opportunity: Relative to white Americans, Black Americans are spending more time in vehicles than they have in the past. Changes in time spent driving, while modest, likely explain an important share of the emergent race gap. The second is a relative increase in drug use, manifested by a quadrupling of the rate of overdose deaths among Black Americans after 2014. Increased drug use appears to have resulted in a concomitant increase in fatal crashes involving drivers under the influence of drugs. Finally, we consider whether the emerging race gap is explained by the so-called "Ferguson effect," the idea that police officers have pulled back from enforcement activity in recent years. On the one hand, traffic stops made by police officers do appear to have declined after 2014. However, the decline in traffic stops does not appear to be race-specific and there is little evidence of a broad increase in risky driving behaviors like speeding and driving without a seat belt.

Noise pollution and violent crime 
Timo Hener
Journal of Public Economics, November 2022 


This paper reveals how exposure to noise pollution increases violent crime. To identify the causal effect of noise pollution, I use daily variation in aircraft landing approaches to instrument noise levels. Increasing background noise by 4.1 decibels causes a 6.6% increase in the violent crime rate. The additional crimes mostly consist of physical assaults on men. The results imply a substantial societal burden from noise pollution beyond health impacts.

Trend in Loaded Handgun Carrying Among Adult Handgun Owners in the United States, 2015‒2019
Ali Rowhani-Rahbar et al.
American Journal of Public Health, December 2022, Pages 1783-1790 

Methods: Using a nationally representative survey of US firearm-owning adults in 2019, we asked handgun owners (n = 2389) about their past-month handgun carrying behavior.

Results: A total of 30.3% (95% confidence interval [CI] = 28.0%, 32.6%) of handgun owners carried handguns monthly, of whom 38.1% (95% CI = 33.6%, 42.7%) did so daily. In permitless carry states, 29.7% (95% CI = 25.9%, 33.9%) of handgun owners carried handguns in the past month, compared with 33.1% (95% CI = 29.9%, 36.3%) in shall issue states and 19.7% (95% CI = 14.9%, 25.5%) in may issue states. Of handgun owners without a permit, 7.5% (95% CI = 4.1%, 13.3%) of those in may issue states and 11.5% (95% CI = 8.5%, 15.4%) of those in shall issues states carried handguns in the past month.

Conclusions: In 2019, about 16 million US adult handgun owners carried handguns in the past month (up from 9 million in 2015), and approximately 6 million did so daily (twice the 3 million who did so in 2015). Proportionally fewer handgun owners carried handguns in states where issuing authorities had substantial discretion in granting permits.

Police-Involved Fatalities and Municipal Fiscal Health
Tatyana Guzman & Benjamin Clark
University of Oregon Working Paper, October 2022 


George Floyd killing in Minneapolis spotlighted the role of police-involved fatalities that cause immeasurable harm to victims’ families and communities, weaken public trust in government, and may lead to civil unrest. Police-involved fatalities place a real financial burden on the cities, given the size of awards to victims’ families and the cost of implementing consent decrees. By quantifying the impact of fatal encounters on city credit rating, this study offers evidence for policymakers to make informed decisions regarding the policing practices in their cities, leading to more equitable policing. Credit ratings incorporate third-party perceptions of local governments’ fiscal, economic, demographic, and political performance (Johnson and Kriz 2002; Marlowe, 2007, Jimenez 2011; Moldogaziev and Guzman 2015). This manuscript examines the impact of fatal encounters on the creditworthiness of the 150 largest US cities from 2000 to 2017. We observe a consistent negative correlation between police-involved fatalities and credit ratings among all the model estimates. These correlations remain statistically significant for about five years following the incidents. We also estimate that the larger the share of non-white victims of police violence, the lower the cities’ credit ratings are.

Reminders Work, but for Whom? Evidence from New York City Parking Ticket Recipients
Ori Heffetz, Ted O'Donoghue & Henry Schneider
American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, November 2022, Pages 343-370


We investigate heterogeneity in responsiveness to reminder letters among New York City parking ticket recipients. Using variation in the timing of letters, we find a strong aggregate response. But we find large differences across individuals: those with a low baseline propensity to respond to tickets — a natural nudge target — react least to letters. These low-response types, who incur significant late penalties, disproportionately come from already disadvantaged groups. They do react strongly to traditional, incentive-based interventions. We discuss how accounting for response heterogeneity might change one's approach to policy and how one might use our analysis to target interventions at low-response types.

The (Mis)utilization of Cues During Deception Detection in 911 Homicide Calls
Patrick Markey et al.
Homicide Studies, forthcoming


The current study explored cue utilization during 911 homicide calls to better understand deception detection in this high-risk situation. A sample of 93 participants judged the deceptiveness of a random subset of 110 homicide calls placed to 911. A separate group of raters coded 86 different cues expressed by each 911 caller. Results indicated that judges were unable to detect deception accurately. While judges appeared to utilize some cues correctly when assessing callers’ deception, subsequent analyses found that judges likely had difficulty detecting deception because they failed to utilize emotionally related cues correctly.

Business Cycles and Police Hires
Fernando Saltiel & Cody Tuttle
University of Texas Working Paper, October 2022 


We show that the quality of police hires varies over the business cycle. Officers hired when the unemployment rate is high have fewer complaints, disciplines, and are less likely to be fired than officers hired when the unemployment rate is low. Effects are larger for younger workers who have weaker outside options in recessions. We find that the size and quality of the applicant pool increases in high unemployment years -- more people take entry exams and a smaller fraction fail the exam. Our findings shed light on how outside options affect police hires and speak to policy questions about police recruitment.

Place-Based Improvements for Public Safety: Private Investment, Public Code Enforcement, and Changes in Crime at Microplaces across Six U.S. Cities
Marie Skubak Tillyer, Arthur Acolin & Rebecca Walter
Justice Quarterly, forthcoming 


Research demonstrates that crime concentrates at relatively few microplaces, and changes at a small proportion of locations can have a considerable influence on a city’s overall crime level. Yet there is little research examining what accounts for change in crime at microplaces. This study examines the relationship between two mechanisms for place-based improvements – private investment in the form of building permits and public regulation in the form of municipal code enforcement – and yearly changes in crime at street segments. We use longitudinal data from six cities to estimate Spatial Durbin Models with block group and census tract by year fixed effects. Building permits and code enforcement are significantly associated with reductions in crime on street segments across all cities, with spatial diffusion of benefits to nearby segments. These findings suggest public safety planning should include efforts that incentivize and compel physical improvements to high crime microplaces.

Which Police Departments Want Reform? Barriers to Evidence-Based Policymaking
Samantha Goerger, Jonathan Mummolo & Sean Westwood
Journal of Experimental Political Science, forthcoming 


Political elites increasingly express interest in evidence-based policymaking, but transparent research collaborations necessary to generate relevant evidence pose political risks, including the discovery of sub-par performance and misconduct. If aversion to collaboration is non-random, collaborations may produce evidence that fails to generalize. We assess selection into research collaborations in the critical policy arena of policing by sending requests to discuss research partnerships to roughly 3,000 law enforcement agencies in 48 states. A host of agency and jurisdiction attributes fail to predict affirmative responses to generic requests, alleviating concerns over generalizability. However, across two experiments, mentions of agency performance in our correspondence depressed affirmative responses – even among top-performing agencies – by roughly eight percentage points. Many agencies that initially indicate interest in transparent, evidence-based policymaking recoil once performance evaluations are made salient. We discuss several possible mechanisms for these dynamics, which can inhibit valuable policy experimentation in many communities.

Survivor-focused timely warnings increase negative stereotyping of survivors but make readers feel safer
Curtis Phills et al.
Journal of Applied Social Psychology, forthcoming


Universities in the United States issue “timely warnings” when a sexual assault occurs on campus. Timely warnings should make campuses safer by communicating information that allows community members to make informed personal safety decisions. Unfortunately, these warnings often undermine that safety goal by centering the survivor's actions (i.e., walking alone at night) and characteristics (i.e., wearing revealing clothes), rather than or in addition to the perpetrator's actions (i.e., followed the survivor to their house) and characteristics (i.e., wearing a red shirt). The present research investigated whether including survivor-focused details in timely warnings causes readers to view survivors as less intelligent (i.e., why else would they walk alone at night?) and more promiscuous (i.e., why else would they wear revealing clothes?). Among three distinct samples (registered voters, US undergraduates, US based MTurk participants), we manipulated whether timely warnings included survivor-focused details. Survivor-focused, versus not survivor-focused, warnings caused participants to view survivors as less intelligent (all three samples) and more promiscuous (US undergraduates and US based MTurk participants). Participants also felt safer when timely warnings focused on the survivor. Notably, feeling safer related to believing survivors were less intelligent (US based MTurk participants). We discuss how survivor-focused timely warnings may ironically make campuses less safe by discouraging survivors from reporting crimes.


from the


A weekly newsletter with free essays from past issues of National Affairs and The Public Interest that shed light on the week's pressing issues.


to your National Affairs subscriber account.

Already a subscriber? Activate your account.


Unlimited access to intelligent essays on the nation’s affairs.

Subscribe to National Affairs.