Which Police Departments Want Reform? Barriers to Evidence-Based Policymaking
48 Pages Posted: 31 Dec 2019 Last revised: 6 Apr 2020
Date Written: March 13, 2020
Political elites increasingly express interest in evidence-based policymaking, but transparent research collaborations necessary to generate relevant evidence pose political risks, including the discovery of sub-par performance and misconduct. If aversion to collaboration is non-random, collaborations may produce evidence that fails to generalize. We assess selection into research collaborations in the critical policy arena of policing by sending sincere requests to discuss research partnerships to roughly 3,000 law enforcement agencies in 48 states. A host of agency and jurisdiction attributes fail to predict affirmative responses to generic requests, alleviating concerns over generalizability. However, across two experiments, mentions of agency performance in our correspondence depressed affirmative responses --- even among top-performing agencies --- by roughly eight percentage points. Many agencies that indicate interest in transparent, evidence-based policymaking are likely engaging in cheap talk, and recoil once performance evaluations are made salient. These dynamics can inhibit valuable policy experimentation in many communities.
Keywords: police, field experiments, external validity, site selection bias, policy reform
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