Why Do Increased Arrest Rates Appear to Reduce Crime: Deterrence, Incapacitation, or Measurement Error?

John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business, Harvard Law School, Discussion Paper No. 185

Posted: 8 Aug 1996

See all articles by Steven D. Levitt

Steven D. Levitt

University of Chicago; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); American Bar Foundation

Multiple version iconThere are 3 versions of this paper

Date Written: June 1996

Abstract

This paper attempts to discriminate between deterrence, incapacitation, and measurement error as explanations for the negative relationship between arrest rates and crime empirically. Measurement error cannot explain the observed patterns in the data. To differentiate between deterrence and incapacitation, the impact of changes in the arrest rate for one crime on the rate of other crimes is examined. Incapacitation suggests that an increase in the arrest rate for one crime will reduce all crime rates. Deterrence predicts that an increase in the arrest rate for one crime will lead to a rise in other crimes as criminals substitute away from the first crime. Empirically, deterrence appears to be the more important factor, particularly for property crimes.

JEL Classification: K42

Suggested Citation

Levitt, Steven D., Why Do Increased Arrest Rates Appear to Reduce Crime: Deterrence, Incapacitation, or Measurement Error? (June 1996). John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business, Harvard Law School, Discussion Paper No. 185, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=10111

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