Crime and (a Preference for) Punishment: The Effects of Drug Policy Reform on Policing Activity
33 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2021 Last revised: 26 Sep 2021
Date Written: June 25, 2021
We still know very little about the incentives of police, often due to data constraints and the underlying policy environment. Using geocoded crime data and a novel source of within-city spatial and temporal variation in punishment severity, I am able to shed light on enforcement behavior. I find that in parts of a city where drug penalties were weakened, there is a 13% decrease in drug arrests within a year; there is no displacement of non-drug offenses and majority black neighborhoods have a larger decline in drug arrests. If offenders were significantly deterred by harsher penalties, as the law intended and Becker’s (1968) model predicts, there should have been an increase in drug arrests. My results are therefore consistent with police treating enforcement effort and punishment severity as complementary. I also find that citywide crime and drug use do not increase following the weakening of drug penalties; this calls into question the "War on Drugs" view of punishment and suggests that certain types enforcement can be reduced without incurring large public safety costs.
Keywords: crime, enforcement, deterrence, punishment, enhanced penalty zones
JEL Classification: K40, K42, H40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation