Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Policeon Crime

46 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2000 Last revised: 26 Aug 2010

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 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 1995

Abstract

Previous empirical studies have typically uncovered little evidence that police reduce crime. One problem with those studies is a failure to adequately deal with the simultaneity between police and crime: while police may or may not reduce crime, there is little doubt that expenditures on police forces are an increasing function of the crime rate. In this study, the timing of mayoral and gubernatorial elections is used to identify the effect of police on crime. This paper first demonstrates that increases in the size of police forces disproportionately occur in mayoral and gubernatorial election years, a relationship that had previously gone undocumented. After controlling for changes in government spending on other social programs, there is little reason to think that elections will be otherwise correlated with crime, making elections ideal instruments. Using a panel of large U.S. cities from 1970-1992, police are shown to reduce crime for six of the seven crime categories examined. Each additional police officer is estimated to eliminate eight to ten serious crimes. Existing estimates of the costs of crime suggest that the social benefit of reduced crime is approximately $100,000 per officer per year, implying that the current number of police is below the optimal level.

Suggested Citation

Levitt, Steven D., Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Policeon Crime (January 1995). NBER Working Paper No. w4991. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=226589

Steven D. Levitt (Contact Author)

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