Using Electoral Cycles in Police Hiring to Estimate the Effect of Policeon Crime

Steven D. Levitt

NBER Working Paper No. 4991
Issued in January 1995
NBER Program(s):Public Economics

Previous empirical studies have typically uncovered little evidence that police reduce crime. One problem with those studies is a failure to adequately deal with the simultaneity between police and crime: while police may or may not reduce crime, there is little doubt that expenditures on police forces are an increasing function of the crime rate. In this study, the timing of mayoral and gubernatorial elections is used to identify the effect of police on crime. This paper first demonstrates that increases in the size of police forces disproportionately occur in mayoral and gubernatorial election years, a relationship that had previously gone undocumented. After controlling for changes in government spending on other social programs, there is little reason to think that elections will be otherwise correlated with crime, making elections ideal instruments. Using a panel of large U.S. cities from 1970-1992, police are shown to reduce crime for six of the seven crime categories examined. Each additional police officer is estimated to eliminate eight to ten serious crimes. Existing estimates of the costs of crime suggest that the social benefit of reduced crime is approximately $100,000 per officer per year, implying that the current number of police is below the optimal level.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w4991

Published: Levitt, Steven D. "Using Electoral Cycles In Police Hiring To Estimate The Effects Of Police On Crime: Reply," American Economic Review, 2002, v92(4,Sep), 1244-1250. citation courtesy of

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