Public Scrutiny and Police Effort: Evidence from Arrests and Crime After High-Profile Police Killings
79 Pages Posted: 1 Dec 2020 Last revised: 3 Apr 2021
Date Written: June 26, 2017
After a spate of protests touched off by high-profile incidents of police use of force, there has been a renewed focus on whether public scrutiny shapes policing behavior, otherwise known as the Ferguson Effect. This paper shows that after police killings that generate significant public attention and scrutiny, officers reduce effort and crime increases. The effects differ by offense type: Reduced police effort yields persistently fewer arrests for low-level offenses (e.g., marijuana possession), but there are limited changes in arrests for violent or more serious property crimes. The increase in offending is driven by murders and robberies, imposing significant crime costs on affected municipalities. These findings are robust to numerous changes in empirical specification, transformations of the dependent variable, and varying levels of fixed effects that control for changes in state law and treatment spillovers. To disentangle the potential simultaneous effects impacting policing behavior following a high-profile, officer-involved fatality, I develop a theoretical model that provides empirically testable predictions for each mechanism. I find that the reduction in low-level arrests coincides with public scrutiny as the causal channel.
Keywords: Ferguson Effect, officer-involved fatalities, scrutiny, police officer effort, crime
JEL Classification: K42, H76, J15, D73, H41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation