Policing For Profit: The Political Economy of Law Enforcement

Posted: 18 Jun 2018 Last revised: 4 Nov 2019

See all articles by Anna Harvey

Anna Harvey

New York University Department of Politics

Date Written: June 17, 2019


In recent years numerous observers have raised concerns about "policing for profit," or the deployment of law enforcement resources to raise funds for cash-strapped jurisdictions. However, identifying the causal effect of fi scal incentives on law enforcement behavior has remained elusive. We model the effects of fiscal incentives on traffic safety enforcement, fi nding that rules allocating a greater share of fine revenues to deploying jurisdictions may induce increased enforcement effort by patrol officers, and consequent reductions in unsafe driving behavior, with only indeterminate effects on the frequency of citations. We test this model using citation and accident data from Saskatchewan, Canada between 1995 and 2016, for towns policed under the province's contract with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We find that fiscal rules reducing the share of fine revenue captured by the province in towns above a sharply defi ned population threshold increase the frequency and severity of accidents in these towns, but have no effects on the frequency of traffic stops. We also fi nd that cited drivers in towns just below this threshold are given fewer days to pay their fines and are less likely to pay their fi nes on time, leading to higher risks of late fees and license suspension. These results are robust to the use of both data-driven regression discontinuity and local randomization inference strategies. We observe no discontinuities in the citation and accident data at the threshold during the period prior to the introduction of these fi scal rules, in the areas "near" these jurisdictions, within which the province receives 100% of fi ne revenue throughout our period of interest, or at any of multiple placebo thresholds constructed on either side of the actual population threshold.

Keywords: Law Enforcement, Fiscal Incentives, Political Economy, Accidents, Traffic Safety

JEL Classification: K42, H27, R41

Suggested Citation

Harvey, Anna, Policing For Profit: The Political Economy of Law Enforcement (June 17, 2019). George Mason Law & Economics Research Paper No. 19-16, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3197705 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3197705

Anna Harvey (Contact Author)

New York University Department of Politics ( email )

19 W. 4th St.
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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