Thin Blue Line

Kevin Lewis

December 02, 2020

Black Lives Matter Protests, Fatal Police Interactions, and Crime
Evelyn Skoy
Contemporary Economic Policy, forthcoming


The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement was a prominent social movement largely focused on raising awareness of and reducing police use‐of‐force and fatal interactions with police. However, opponents of the movement have feared it could lead to decreased proactive policing and increased crime. Using a state‐by‐month fixed effects model, I find evidence that an additional protest in the preceding month leads to a decrease of .225 fatal interactions between Blacks and police per 10 million Black population. In addition, I find no evidence supporting increased crime or arrests as a result of the BLM movement.

Who Watches the Watchmen? Local News and Police Behavior in the United States
Nicola Mastrorocco & Arianna Ornaghi
University of Warwick Working Paper, November 2020


Do the police respond to media coverage of crime? In this paper, we study how a decline in news coverage of local crime affects municipal police departments in the United States. Exogenous variation in local news is from acquisitions of local TV stations by a large broadcast group, Sinclair. To control for other content changes that might be induced by Sinclair but are not municipality-specific, we implement a triple differences-in-differences design that interacts the timing of the acquisitions with an indicator for whether the municipality is covered by the news at baseline, a proxy for exposure to the local news shock. Using a unique dataset of almost 300,000 newscasts, we show that stations that are acquired by Sinclair decrease their coverage of local crime. This matters for policing: after Sinclair enters a media market, covered municipalities experience 10% lower violent crime clearance rates relative to non-covered municipalities. Finally, we provide evidence to suggest that the effect is consistent with a decrease in the salience of crime in the public opinion.

Facilitating Police Reform: Body Cameras, Use of Force, and Law Enforcement Outcomes
Taeho Kim
University of Chicago Working Paper, November 2020


Controversial police use-of-force incidents have spurred protests and calls for reform across the nation. Body-worn cameras (BWCs) have received extensive attention as a potential key reform. I conduct a nationwide study of the effects of BWCs across more than 1,000 agencies. I use idiosyncratic variation in adoption timing that is attributable to administrative hurdles to identify the impact of BWCs on the use of force and law enforcement outcomes. This empirical strategy addresses the limitations of previous studies that have evaluated BWCs within a single agency. In a single-agency setting, the control group officers are also indirectly affected by BWCs due to interactions with the treatment group officers (spillover); additionally, there may be fundamental differences between agencies that agree to be researched and agencies that do not (site-selection bias). In overcoming these limitations, my multi-agency study finds that BWCs lead to substantial decreases in the use of force, both against whites and minorities. Nationwide, they reduce police-involved homicides by 43%. Surprisingly, this study finds no evidence of an association between BWCs and de-policing. By examining social media usage data from Twitter as well as data on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, I find that after BWC adoption, public opinion toward the police improves. These findings imply that BWCs can be an important tool for improving police accountability without sacrificing policing capabilities.

Civic Responses to Police Violence
Desmond Ang & Jonathan Tebes
Harvard Working Paper, October 2020


Roughly a thousand people are killed by American law enforcement officers each year, accounting for more than 5% of all homicides. We estimate the causal impact of these events on civic engagement. Exploiting hyper-local variation in how close residents live to a killing, we find that exposure to police violence leads to significant increases in registrations and votes. These effects are driven entirely by Blacks and Hispanics and are largest for killings of unarmed individuals. We find corresponding increases in support for criminal justice reforms, suggesting that police violence may cause voters to politically mobilize against perceived injustice.

Impacts of Private Prison Contracting on Inmate Time Served and Recidivism
Anita Mukherjee
American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, forthcoming


This paper examines the impact of private prison contracting by exploiting staggered prison capacity shocks in Mississippi. Motivated by a model based on the typical private prison contract that pays a per diem for each occupied bed, the empirical analysis shows that private prison inmates serve 90 additional days. This is alternatively estimated as 4.8 percent of the average sentence. The delayed release erodes half of the cost savings offered by private contracting and is linked to the greater likelihood of conduct violations in private prisons. The additional days served do not lead to apparent changes in inmate recidivism.

Does Banning the Box Help Ex-Offenders Get Jobs? Evaluating the Effects of a Prominent Example
Evan Rose
Journal of Labor Economics, forthcoming


This paper uses administrative employment and conviction data to evaluate laws that restrict access to job seekers’ criminal records. Convictions generate decreases in employment and earnings, partly due to shifts toward lower-paying industries less likely to check criminal histories. However, a 2013 Seattle law barring employers from examining job seekers’ records until after an initial screening had negligible impacts on ex-offenders’ labor market outcomes. The results are consistent with employers deferring background checks until later in the interview process or ex-offenders applying only to jobs where clean records are not required, a pattern supported by survey evidence.

The relation between state gun laws and the incidence and severity of mass public shootings in the United States, 1976–2018
Michael Siegel et al.
Law and Human Behavior, October 2020, Pages 347–360

Method: We developed a panel of annual, state-specific data on firearm laws and mass public shooting events and victim counts. We used a generalized estimating equations logistic regression to examine the relationship between eight state firearm laws and the likelihood of a mass public shooting. We then used a zero-inflated negative binomial model to assess the relationship between these laws and the number of fatalities and nonfatal injuries in these incidents.

Results: State laws requiring a permit to purchase a firearm were associated with 60% lower odds of a mass public shooting occurring (95% confidence interval [CI: −32%, −76%]). Large-capacity magazine bans were associated with 38% fewer fatalities (95% CI [−12%, −57%]) and 77% fewer nonfatal injuries (95% CI [−43%, −91%]) when a mass shooting occurred.

Are Minorities Subjected to, or Insulated from, Racialized Policing in Majority–minority Community Contexts?
Shytierra Gaston, Rod Brunson & Leigh Grossman
British Journal of Criminology, November 2020, Pages 1416–1437


Racial conflict theories suggest that racialized policing should wane in areas where people of colour are the majority and Whites, the minority. This article examines community-level predictors of racial/ethnic differences in drug arrests from 2011 to 2016 across 86 census tracts in Newark, NJ, a city where most officers and residents are persons of colour. We examine whether racial conflict indicators predict Black, White and Hispanic drug arrests, accounting for other factors. Findings indicate that racialized policing prevails within this majority–minority context. Officers tend to arrest Blacks in communities with greater White and Hispanic residents and Whites in predominantly Black areas. In contrast, Hispanic arrests are not attributable to racialized policing. We conclude with recommendations for future theoretical redevelopment.

Effect of sentencing reform on racial and ethnic disparities in involvement with the criminal justice system: The case of California's proposition 47
Magnus Lofstrom, Brandon Martin & Steven Raphael
Criminology & Public Policy, November 2020, Pages 1165-1207


We analyze the disparate effects of a recent California sentencing reform on the arrest, booking, and incarceration rates experienced by California residents from different racial and ethnic groups. In November 2014, California voters passed state Proposition 47 that redefined a series of felony and “wobbler” offenses (offenses that can be charged as either a felony or misdemeanor) as straight misdemeanors, causing an immediate 15% decline in total drug arrests, an approximate 20% decline in total property crime arrests, and shifts in the composition of arrests away from felonies towards misdemeanors. Using microdata on the universe of arrests in the state in conjunction with demographic data from the American Community Survey, we document a substantial narrowing in interracial differences in overall arrest rates and arrest rates by offense type, with very large declines in the interracial arrest rate gaps for felony drug offenses. We see declines in bookings rates for all groups (conditional on being arrested), though we find a larger decrease for white arrestees. This relatively greater decline for white arrests is largely explained by differences in the distribution of arrests across recorded offenses. Despite the widening of racial gaps in the conditional booking rate, we observe substantial declines in overall booked arrests that are larger for African Americans and Hispanics relative to Whites and Asians. For some offenses (felony drug offenses), interracial disparities in jail booking rates narrow by nearly half. Finally, we use data from the American Community Survey to analyze changes in the proportion incarcerated on any given day and how these changes vary by race and ethnicity. For these results, we present trends for the time period spanning the larger set of policy reforms that have been implemented in the state since 2011. We observe sizable declines in the overall incarceration rate for African Americans, with the largest declines observed for African American males. The one quarter decline in total correctional populations in the state coincided with sizable narrowing in interracial differences in incarceration rates.

How Do Mass Shootings Affect Community Wellbeing?
Aparna Soni & Erdal Tekin
NBER Working Paper, November 2020


Over the past four decades, more than 2,300 people have been the victims of mass shootings involving a firearm in the United States. Research shows that mass shootings have significant detrimental effects on the direct victims and their families. However, relatively little is known about the extent to which the impacts of these tragedies are transmitted into communities where they occur, and how they influence people beyond those directly affected. This study uses nationally representative data from the Gallup-Healthways survey to assess the spillover effects of mass shootings on community wellbeing and emotional health outcomes that capture community satisfaction, sense of safety, and levels of stress and worry. We leverage differences in the timing of mass shooting events across counties between 2008 and 2017. We find that mass shootings reduce both community wellbeing and emotional health. According to our results, a mass shooting is associated with a 27 percentage point decline in the likelihood of having excellent community wellbeing and a 13 percentage point decline in the likelihood of having excellent emotional health four weeks following the incident. The effects are stronger and longer lasting among individuals exposed to deadlier mass shootings. Furthermore, the reductions in wellbeing are greater for parents with children below age 18. Our findings suggest that mass shootings have significant societal costs and create negative spillover effects that extend beyond those immediately exposed.

The Big House Far from Home: Spatial Distance and Criminal Recidivism
Anna Weber
Boston University Working Paper, October 2020


I employ a novel two-sample instrumental variables strategy to estimate the causal effect of offenders’ distance from home during incarceration on recidivism. I instrument for an inmate’s distance from home with the average or minimum distance to state facilities from their home county, and combine data on 2000-2015 prison admissions and releases from the National Corrections Reporting Program with cross-sectional inmate assignment information from Florida and Oklahoma containing facility assignments for the current inmate population. My results suggest that doubling an inmate’s distance from home decreases the rate of 1-year recidivism by 3 percentage points. Inmates initially convicted of a crime associated with membership in a criminal network experience the greatest decline in recidivism with distance, suggesting that the deterioration of criminal ties is an important mechanism.

Do the Effects of Police Body-Worn Cameras on Use of Force and Complaints Change Over Time? Results From a Panel Analysis in the Milwaukee Police Department
Bryce Peterson & Daniel Lawrence
Criminal Justice and Behavior, forthcoming


Police body-worn cameras (BWCs) can help improve transparency, accountability, and policing behaviors. This study extends prior BWC research by using a panel analysis design with a measure of treatment duration to examine how the effects of BWCs change over time. Using data from the Milwaukee Police Department (N = 1,009), we propose and test two competing hypotheses: The program maturity hypothesis suggests that BWCs will be more effective at reducing use of force and complaints over time, whereas the program fatigue hypothesis expects BWCs to be less effective the longer officers wear BWCs. We find that BWCs reduced complaints overall and that, over time, each additional month with a camera resulted in 6% fewer complaints. There was no overall relationship between BWCs and use of force, but our treatment duration model suggests that there was an immediate decrease in use of force incidents, followed by a gradual increase in subsequent months.

The Effects of Stolen-Goods Markets on Crime: Pawnshops, Property Theft, and the Gold Rush of the 2000s
Rocco d’Este
Journal of Law and Economics, August 2020, Pages 449-472


This paper investigates the effects of stolen-goods markets on crime. I focus on pawnshops, a legitimate business often associated with the illicit trade of stolen property. Within-county estimates reveal that a 10 percent increase in the rate of pawnshops increases, by around .3 percent, the rate of acquisitive crimes that yield stolen goods that might be tradeable to pawnshops. A quasi-experimental design shows that the effects of changes in gold prices on burglaries are amplified by the initial stock of pawnshops in a county. Overall, the analysis suggests that a larger market for the trade of stolen property can affect burglars’ incentives by increasing the value of criminal opportunities.

Did mass incarceration lead to the disproportionate admission of minorities and marginal offenders?
Richard Felson & Andrew Krajewski
Criminology & Public Policy, November 2020, Pages 1209-1229


We examine the effects of mass incarceration on the admission of minority and marginal (i.e., first‐time) offenders to state prisons. Our analyses are based on six waves of data from the Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities from 1973 to 2004. The results suggest that the era of mass incarceration led to increased incarceration of Hispanic offenders relative to White offenders, but not Black offenders relative to White offenders. Disproportional incarceration did occur, however, during some periods. For example, during the early period of mass incarceration, there was a disproportional increase in the admission of Hispanics and marginal offenders. In the late 1980s, during the “War on Drugs,” the likelihood that admissions were Black or Hispanic drug offenders increased, but the likelihood that admissions were marginal offenders did not.


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.