The Economics of Policing and Public Safety
AbstractThe efficiency of any police action depends on the relative magnitude of its crime-reducing benefits and legitimacy costs. Policing strategies that are socially efficient at the city level may be harmful at the local level, because the distribution of direct costs and benefits of police actions that reduce victimization is not the same as the distribution of indirect benefits of feeling safe. In the United States, the local misallocation of police resources is disproportionately borne by Black and Hispanic individuals. Despite the complexity of this particular problem, the incentives facing both police departments and police officers tend to be structured as if the goals of policing were simple—to reduce crime by as much as possible. Formal data collection on the crime-reducing benefits of policing, and not the legitimacy costs, produces further incentives to provide more engagement than may be efficient in any specific encounter, at both the officer and departmental level. There is currently little evidence as to what screening, training, or monitoring strategies are most effective at encouraging individual officers to balance the crime reducing benefits and legitimacy costs of their actions.
CitationOwens, Emily, and Bocar Ba. 2021. "The Economics of Policing and Public Safety." Journal of Economic Perspectives, 35 (4): 3-28. DOI: 10.1257/jep.35.4.3
- D72 Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
- H76 State and Local Government: Other Expenditure Categories
- J15 Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination
- J45 Public Sector Labor Markets
- K42 Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law