Letter | Published:

Evidence that curtailing proactive policing can reduce major crime

Nature Human Behaviourvolume 1pages730737 (2017) | Download Citation

Abstract

Governments employ police to prevent criminal acts. But it remains in dispute whether high rates of police stops, criminal summonses and aggressive low-level arrests reduce serious crime1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Police officers target their efforts at areas where crime is anticipated and/or where they expect enforcement will be most effective. Simultaneously, citizens decide to comply with the law or commit crime partly on the basis of police deployment and enforcement strategies. In other words, policing and crime are endogenous to unobservable strategic interaction, which frustrates causal analysis. Here, we resolve these challenges and present evidence that proactive policing—which involves systematic and aggressive enforcement of low-level violations—is positively related to reports of major crime. We examine a political shock that caused the New York Police Department (NYPD) to effectively halt proactive policing in late 2014 and early 2015. Analysing several years of unique data obtained from the NYPD, we find that civilian complaints of major crimes (such as burglary, felony assault and grand larceny) decreased during and shortly after sharp reductions in proactive policing. The results challenge prevailing scholarship as well as conventional wisdom on authority and legal compliance, as they imply that aggressively enforcing minor legal statutes incites more severe criminal acts.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

References

  1. 1.

    Kubrin, C. E., Messner, S. F., Deane, G., McGeever, K. & Stucky, T. D. Proactive policing and robbery rates across U.S. cities. Criminology 48, 57–97 (2010).

  2. 2.

    Braga, A. A., Welsh, B. C. & Schnell, C. Can policing disorder reduce crime? A systematic review and meta-analysis. J. Res. Crime Delinq. 52, 567–588 (2015).

  3. 3.

    Cerdá, M. et al. Misdemeanor policing, physical disorder, and gun-related homicide: a spatial analytic test of “broken-windows” theory. Epidemiology 20, 533–541 (2009).

  4. 4.

    MacDonald, J., Fagan, J. & Geller, A. The effects of local police surges on crime and arrests in New York City. PLoS ONE 11, e0157223 (2016).

  5. 5.

    Harcourt, B. E. Illusion of Order: The False Promise of Broken Windows Policing (Harvard Univ. Press, Cambridge, MA, 2005).

  6. 6.

    Weisburd, D., Wooditch, A., Weisburd, S. & Yang, S.-M. Do stop, question, and frisk practices deter crime? Criminol. Public Policy 15, 31–56 (2016).

  7. 7.

    Rosenfeld, R. & Fornango, R. The relationship between crime and stop, question, and frisk rates in New York City neighborhoods. Justice Q. 34, 1–21 (2017).

  8. 8.

    Fagan, J., Geller, A., Davies, G. & West, B. in Race, Ethnicity, and Policing: New and Essential Readings (eds Rice, S. K. & White, M. D.) 309–348 (New York Univ. Press, New York, 2010).

  9. 9.

    Fagan, J., Braga, A. A., Brunson, R. K. & Pattavina, A. Stops and stares: street stops, race, and surveillance in the new policing. Fordham Urban Law J. 43, 621–696 (2016).

  10. 10.

    Wilson, J. Q. & Kelling, G. L. Broken windows: the police and neighborhood safety. Atlantic Monthly  249, 29–38 (1982).

  11. 11.

    Weisburd, D. Does hot spots policing inevitably lead to unfair and abusive police practices, or can we maximize both fairness and effectiveness in the new proactive policing? Univ. Chic. Leg. Forum 2016, 661–689 (2016).

  12. 12.

    Broken Windows and Quality-of-Life Policing in New York City (Department of Investigation, The New York City Police Department, City of New York, 2015).

  13. 13.

    Bratton, W. J. & Kelling, G. L. Why we need broken windows policing. City Journal https://www.city-journal.org/html/why-we-need-broken-windows-policing-13696.html (Winter, 2015).

  14. 14.

    Pyrooz, D. C., Decker, S. H., Wolfe, S. E. & Shjarback, J. A. Was there a Ferguson effect on crime rates in large U.S. cities? J. Crim. Justice 46, 1–8 (2016).

  15. 15.

    Fagan, J. & Davies, G. Street stops and broken windows: terry, race and disorder in New York City. Fordham Urban Law J. 28, 457–504 (2000).

  16. 16.

    Sampson, R. J. & Raudenbush, S. W. Systematic social observation of public spaces: a new look at disorder in urban neighborhoods. Am. J. Sociol. 105, 603–651 (1999).

  17. 17.

    Leovy, J. Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America (Spiegel & Grau, New York, NY, 2015).

  18. 18.

    Hinkle, J. C. & Weisburd, D. The irony of broken windows policing: a micro-place study of the relationship between disorder, focused police crackdowns and fear of crime. J. Crim. Justice 36, 503–512 (2008).

  19. 19.

    Geller, A., Fagan, J., Tyler, T. & Link, B. G. Aggressive policing and the mental health of young urban men. Am. J. Public Health 104, 2321–2327 (2014).

  20. 20.

    Tyler, T. R., Jackson, J. & Mentovich, A. The consequences of being an object of suspicion: potential pitfalls of proactive police contact. J. Empir. Leg. Stud. 12, 602–636 (2015).

  21. 21.

    Kohler–Hausmann, I. Managerial justice and mass misdemeanors. Stanford Law Rev. 66, 611–693 (2014).

  22. 22.

    Desmond, M., Papachristos, A. V. & Kirk, D. S. Police violence and citizen crime reporting in the black community. Am. Sociol. Rev. 81, 857–876 (2016).

  23. 23.

    Kirk, D. S. & Papachristos, A. V. Cultural mechanisms and the persistence of neighborhood violence. Am. J. Sociol. 116, 1190–1233 (2011).

  24. 24.

    Zimring, F. E. The City That Became Safe: New York’s Lessons for Urban Crime and Its Control (Oxford Univ. Press, New York, City of New York, NY, 2012).

  25. 25.

    Kelley, D. N. & McCarthy, S. L. The Report of the Crime Reporting Review Committee to Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly Concerning CompStat Auditing (New York Police Department, NY, 2013).

  26. 26.

    Rosenfeld, R. & Fornango, R. The impact of police stops on precinct robbery and burglary rates in New York City, 2003–2010. Justice Q. 31, 96–122 (2014).

  27. 27.

    Eure, P. K. An Analysis of Quality-of-Life Summonses, Quality-of-Life Misdemeanor Arrests, and Felony Crime in New York City, 2010–2015. (Department of Investigation, City of New York, 2016).

  28. 28.

    Roeder, O., Eisen, L.-B. & Bowling, J. What Caused the Crime Decline? (Brennan Center for Justice, New York, NY, 2015).

  29. 29.

    Lerman, A. E. & Weaver, V. M. Staying out of sight? Concentrated policing and local political action. Ann. Am. Acad. Pol. Soc. Sci. 651, 202–219 (2014).

  30. 30.

    Chandrasekher, A. C. The effect of police slowdowns on crime. Am. L. Econ. Rev. 18, 385–437 (2016).

  31. 31.

    Lerman, A. E. & Weaver, V. M. Arresting Citizenship: The Democratic Consequences of American Crime Control (Chicago Univ. Press, Chicago, IL, 2014).

  32. 32.

    Li, X., Mehrotra, D. V. & Barnard, J. Analysis of incomplete longitudinal binary data using multiple imputation. Stat. Med. 25, 2107–2124 (2006).

  33. 33.

    Puhani, P. A. The treatment effect, the cross difference, and the interaction term in nonlinear “difference-in-differences” models. Econ. Lett. 115, 85–87 (2012).

  34. 34.

    Ai, C. & Norton, E. C. Interaction terms in logit and probit models. Econ. Lett. 80, 123–129 (2003).

  35. 35.

    Rengifo, A. F. & Fowler, K. Stop, question, and complain: citizen grievances against the NYPD and the opacity of police stops across New York City precincts, 2007–2013. J. Urban Health 93, 32–41 (2016).

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA, 70803, USA

    • Christopher M. Sullivan
  2. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, 48109, USA

    • Zachary P. O’Keeffe

Authors

  1. Search for Christopher M. Sullivan in:

  2. Search for Zachary P. O’Keeffe in:

Contributions

C.M.S. developed the original study concept. C.M.S. and Z.P.O. gathered and analysed the data, and drafted and revised the manuscript. Z.P.O. wrote the computer code and generated figures and tables.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Christopher M. Sullivan.

Electronic supplementary material

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Tables 1–9; Supplementary Figures 1–8

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-017-0211-5