Prevention-Oriented Policing Means Less Crime: Study

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Photo by D.C.Atty via Flickr

A new study published in The Journal of Public Economics confirms what many advocates of preventative policing have argued: the visible presence of more cops on the streets, rather than the number of arrests they make, can reduce crime.

The study, using data obtained through the Freedom of Information Act from the federal Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) Universal Hiring Program between 2009 and 2014, found that each additional police officer hired prevented four violent crimes and 15 property crimes.

The data, analyzed by Steven Mello, a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at Princeton University, also found declines in robbery and auto theft, suggesting that an additional police officer prevents 1.9 robberies and 5.1 auto thefts.

“I also find evidence that treatment effects are largest for cities most exposed to poor macroeconomic conditions during the Great Recession,” Mello wrote.

“Such a result is consistent with the theory that fiscal distress caused cities to reduce their police forces below optimal levels, which could explain the large magnitudes of my estimates relative to the literature.”

COPS was created in 1994, when then-President Bill Clinton signed into law the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the largest federal crime bill to date. The bill authorized $8.8 billion in spending on grants for state and local law enforcement agencies between 1994 and 2000.

A key part of the crime bill was the creation of the COPS Universal Hiring Program (CHP), which covered 75 percent of the cost of new police hires for grant recipients, in an effort to create and save police officer jobs.

The goal of the hiring grant program was to put 100,000 new police officers on the street.

Since its creation, the COPS Office has funded the hiring and redeployment of more than 130,000 officers in 13,000 state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies. In 2009, according to the study, the COPS Office hiring program led to nearly three fewer violent crimes and about 16 fewer property crimes per 100,000 residents in the following year.

The Department of Justice prioritized funding for police hiring through COPS under former-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In November, Sessions announced $98 million in new COPS grants, allowing 179 law enforcement agencies nationwide to hire 802 new full-time officers. COPS has provided over $14 billion in funding since 1994.

But in March, the proposed DOJ budget for the fiscal year beginning October, 2019, proposed “streamlining” many justice programs, including folding COPS into the Office of Justice Programs.

Mello said his study suggested that federal support for local law enforcement could pay large dividends.

“The results highlight that fiscal support to local governments for crime prevention may offer large returns, especially during bad macroeconomic times,” he wrote.

A copy of the full study can be purchased here.

One thought on “Prevention-Oriented Policing Means Less Crime: Study

  1. Studies like this always fail to take into account what police officers are doing to address crime problems. There are a good many agencies that have not yet recovered staffing losses from the Great Recession – most big cities are down several hundred officers because of recruiting difficulties. Police can have an effect on some UCR crime but not by visibility alone.

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