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Law & Order
Eleven More Cops, One Fewer Murder

How much do police reduce crime? A recent paper by Princeton University PhD candidate Steven Mello uses evidence from COPS, a federal grant program for local police-hiring that was re-activated as part of the stimulus package, to develop some estimates. The results are impressive: Each extra officer seems to have a significant impact on rates of property and even violent crime. From his conclusion:

My estimates suggests that an additional officer is associated with 1.39 fewer robberies, 9.6 fewer larcenies, and 3.5 fewer auto thefts. I also find evidence of a sizable effect of police on murder – the coefficient in the main specification is statistically significant and implies that one murder per year can be prevented by hiring eleven officers.

Much of the debate over criminal justice policy focuses on sentencing and incarceration rates, with reformers calling for shorter sentences and law-and-order advocates warning against releasing criminals. But Mello’s data are a reminder that while sentencing matters, making it more likely that offenders are caught in the first place is the most effective way of controlling crime.

While America has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, it has relatively few police officers per capita. The economist Alex Tabarrok has argued that we have things backwards: That a system of “swift and certain” punishment—one with shorter sentences, but where a robust police force solved a higher percentage of cases—would reduce crime more effectively at less cost.

Of course, a push to hire more police would encounter some resistance, given the spate of high-profile controversies over police shootings. But at a time when Americans are deeply concerned about rising crime rates and overall support for police officers is at historically high levels, a hire-more-cops policy is likely to be quite popular. Policymakers looking for ways to further control crime and violence in America’s cities should take note of Mello’s work.

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  • Beauceron

    If you live in a jurisdiction where a lot of the police have decided its just best not to pursue suspects because of fear of being strung up by our media and politically motivated prosecutors, I don’t think adding extra staff will help much
    And selling a “hire more police” effort is awfully tough when a very large portion of our political class will read that as “hire more racist pigs to assassinate innocent men of color in cold blood.”

    Most people in minority communities, and those whites that are in alliance with them on the Left, don’t want more police. They believe the police are the sole problem. The media and our federal government have supported that notion. Adding more staff to those who are at fault for the problem won’t fix the problem, it will make it worse. What people need to do is just get used to more violent crime. And they need to get used to the fact that if they or someone they care about is assaulted, raped or murdered, that the police simply aren’t going to bother catching the guy.

    • Andrew Allison

      You’re right, of course, that the police have to actually enforce the law in order to be effective — something which our friends on the left seem bound and determined to prevent.

  • Andrew Allison

    I’m shocked, SHOCKED to learn that increased police presence reduces crime. Who’d a thunk.

  • ——————————

    Can’t have too many police…or executions….

  • WigWag

    Something new and interesting on policing by the incomparable Heather McDonald.

    • FriendlyGoat

      They could much more easily determine “statistics” by hanging secret audio (never mind video) recorders all over the station houses and transcribing the unfiltered conversations between officers to gather whatever we need to know about “pattern of practice”. The quantity and quality of positive and sensible remarks measured against the quantity and quality of those which might be, shall we say, “less so” would tell you the condition of any police department—be that a good condition or a bad condition. But, never mind, the DOJ is going to instantly lose interest in any of this subject matter.

  • FriendlyGoat

    “Hiring more cops” is said to now be popular with The Right, but “community policing” (which was “hiring more cops”) had to be opposed by The Right for its association with “political correctness”.

    • RedWell

      I’d also add that hiring more cops means larger pension and other budgets along with, horrors, police unions.
      This certainly puts VM in a bind: advocating what works or condemning the “blue model.”

      • FriendlyGoat

        Indeed, they don’t like the “blue model”. But, you know? Setting murder aside, if you hire a cop and then have 1.39 fewer robberies, 9.6 fewer larcenies, and 3.5 fewer auto thefts, that alone is a good investment, isn’t it? It’s not like any or all of those are “cheap” to victims, insurers, the justice system or even to the criminal ruining his own life.

        Now, with that said, do we trust an excess of police officers who could be used by bad leadership to persecute certain citizens or even all citizens? The Obama-to-Trump flip of national “tone” certainly raises that question in a way we have not considered lately.

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