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When police pull back: Neighborhood-level effects of de-policing on violent and property crime, a research note

Many U.S. cities witnessed both de-policing and increased crime in 2020, yet whether the former contributed to the latter remains unclear. Indeed, much of what is known about the effects of proactive policing on crime comes from studies that evaluated highly focused ...

Published onFeb 13, 2024
When police pull back: Neighborhood-level effects of de-policing on violent and property crime, a research note
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Abstract

Many U.S. cities witnessed both de-policing and increased crime in 2020, yet whether the former contributed to the latter remains unclear. Indeed, much of what is known about the effects of proactive policing on crime comes from studies that evaluated highly focused interventions atypical of day-to-day policing, used cities as the unit of analysis, or could not rule out endogeneity. This study addresses each of these issues, thereby advancing the evidence base concerning the effects of policing on crime. Leveraging two exogenous shocks presented by the onset of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and social unrest after the murder of George Floyd, we evaluated the effects of sudden and sustained reductions in high-discretion policing on crime at the neighborhood level in Denver, Colorado. Multilevel models accounting for trends in prior police activity, neighborhood structure, seasonality, and population mobility revealed mixed results. On the one hand, large-scale reductions in stops and drug-related arrests were associated with significant increases in violent and property crimes, respectively. On the other hand, fewer disorder arrests did not affect crime. These results were not universal across neighborhoods. We discuss the implications of these findings in light of debates concerning the appropriate role of policing in the 21st century.

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