Public Safety through Private Action: An economic assessment of BIDs, locks, and citizen cooperation

Philip J. Cook, John MacDonald

NBER Working Paper No. 15877
Issued in April 2010
NBER Program(s):Law and Economics

Given the central role of private individuals and firms in determining the effectiveness of the criminal justice system, and the quality and availability of criminal opportunities, private actions arguably deserve a central role in the analysis of crime and crime prevention policy. But the leading scholarly commentaries on the crime drop during the 1990s have largely ignored the role of the private sector, as have policymakers. Among the potentially relevant trends: growing reporting rates (documented in this paper); the growing sophistication and use of alarms, monitoring equipment and locks; the considerable increase in the employment of private security guards; and the decline in the use of cash. Private actions of this sort have the potential to both reduce crime rates and reduce arrests and imprisonment. Well-designed regulations and programs can encourage effective private action.

One creative method to harness private action to cost-effective crime control is the creation of business improvement districts (BIDs). Our quasi-experimental analysis of Los Angeles BIDs demonstrates that the social benefits of BID expenditures on security are a large multiple (about 20) of the private expenditures. Creation and operation of effective BIDs requires a legal infrastructure that helps neighborhoods solve the collective action problem.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15877

Published: The Role of Private Action in Controlling Crime, Philip J. Cook, John MacDonald. in Controlling Crime: Strategies and Tradeoffs, Cook, Ludwig, and McCrary. 2011

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