Policing For Profit: The Political Economy of Law Enforcement
51 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2018 Last revised: 21 Apr 2019
Date Written: July 27, 2018
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 fiscal incentives on law enforcement behavior has remained elusive. Researchers have given little theoretical attention to the potentially confounding responses of potential offenders to increased revenue-seeking by law enforcers. Moreover, empirical designs have not effectively addressed the endogeneity of the spatial and temporal variation in fiscal incentives to factors that may directly affect law enforcement or offender behavior. We model the effects of fiscal incentives on traffic safety enforcement, finding 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 daily, monthly, and fully aggregated citation and accident data from Saskatchewan, Canada between 1990 and 2017, 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 jurisdictions above a sharply defined population threshold increase the frequency and severity of accidents in jurisdictions just above this threshold, but have no or even weakly positive effects on the frequency of citations in these jurisdictions; these results are robust to the use of both data-driven regression discontinuity and local randomization inference strategies. We observe no discontinuities in the accident data at this threshold during the period prior to the introduction of these fiscal rules, in the areas "near" these jurisdictions, within which the province receives 100% of fine revenue throughout our period of interest, or at any of 20 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: Suggested Citation