Do Cops Know Who to Stop? Assessing Optimizing Models of Police Behavior with a Natural Experiment

60 Pages Posted: 30 Aug 2023

See all articles by David Abrams

David Abrams

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School

Hanming Fang

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Priyanka Goonetilleke

University of Pennsylvania, Department of Economics

Date Written: August 2023

Abstract

The standard economic model of police stops implies that the contraband hit rate should rise when the number of stops or searches per officer falls, ceteris paribus. We provide empirical corroboration of such optimizing models of police behavior by examining changes in stops and frisks around two extraordinary events of 2020: the COVID-19 pandemic onset and the nationwide protests following the killing of George Floyd. We find that hit rates from pedestrian and vehicle stops generally rose as stops and frisks fell dramatically. Using detailed data, we are able to rule out a number of alternative explanations, including changes in street population, crime, police allocation, and policing intensity. We find mixed evidence about the changes in racial disparities, and evidence that police stops do not decrease crime, at least in the short run. The results are robust to a number of different specifications. Our findings provide quantitative estimates that can contribute to the important goals of improving and reforming policing.

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Suggested Citation

Abrams, David S. and Fang, Hanming and Goonetilleke, Priyanka, Do Cops Know Who to Stop? Assessing Optimizing Models of Police Behavior with a Natural Experiment (August 2023). NBER Working Paper No. w31594, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4553592

David S. Abrams (Contact Author)

University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School ( email )

3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104
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University of Pennsylvania - The Wharton School ( email )

3641 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6365
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Hanming Fang

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Economics ( email )

Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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Priyanka Goonetilleke

University of Pennsylvania, Department of Economics ( email )

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3718 Locust Walk
Philadelphia, PA 19104
United States

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