Counterevidence of crime-reduction effects from federal grants of military equipment to local police

Abstract

In 2017, the Trump Administration restored local law enforcement agencies’ access to military weapons and some other types of surplus military equipment (SME) that had been prohibited by the Obama Administration. The Justice Department background paper used to justify this decision cited two papers published by the American Economic Association. These papers used SME data collected with a 2014 Freedom of Information Act request and concluded that SME, supplied to local law enforcement by the federal government via the 1033 Program, reduces crime. Here we show that the findings of these studies are not credible due to problems with the data. Using more detailed audit data on 1033 SME, we show that the 2014 data are flawed and that the more recent data provide no evidence that 1033 SME reduces crime.

Access options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Fig. 1: Locations of jurisdictions with military transfer aid, 2010–2015.
Fig. 2: Item discrepancies between the NPR FOIA data and the LESO inventory data.
Fig. 3: Replication of BG analyses using both original and more recent data.
Fig. 4: Replication of HPBM analyses using both original and more recent data.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are publicly available through our Dataverse, found at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/politicsofpolicinglabnaturemilitarization/. Data are publicly available, but users may be required to create an account.

Code availability

The code that support the findings of this study is publicly available through our Dataverse, found at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/politicsofpolicinglabnaturemilitarization/. The code is publicly available, but users may be required to create an account.

References

  1. 1.

    Lutterbeck, D. Blurring the dividing line: the convergence of internal and external security in Western Europe. Eur. Secur. 14, 231–253 (2005).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Fassin, D. Enforcing Order: An Ethnography of Urban Policing (Polity, 2013).

  3. 3.

    Roziere, B. & Walby, K. The expansion and normalization of police militarization in Canada. Crit. Criminol. 26, 29–48 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Balko, R. Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (Public Affairs, 2013).

  5. 5.

    Kraska, P. B. & Kappeler, V. E. Militarizing American police: the rise and normalization of paramilitary units. Soc. Probl. 44, 1–18 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Hall, A. R. & Coyne, C. J. The militarization of US domestic policing. Indep. Rev. 17, 485–504 (2013).

    Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Wilson, J. Q. Varieties of Police Behavior: The Management of Law and Order in Eight Communities (Harvard Univ. Press, 1978).

  8. 8.

    Slovak, J. Styles of Urban Policing: Organization, Environment, and Police Styles in Selected American Cities (NYU Press, 1988).

  9. 9.

    Kraska, P. B. Militarization and policing – its relevance to 21st century police. Policing J. Policy Pract. 1, 501–513 (2007).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Phillips, S. W. Police Militarization: Understanding the Perspectives of Police Chiefs, Administrators, and Tactical Officers (Routledge, 2018).

  11. 11.

    Balko, R. Overkill: The Rise of Paramilitary Police Raids in America (Cato Institute, 2006).

  12. 12.

    Laurie, C. D. & Cole, R. H. The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1877–1945 (Government Printing Office, 1997).

  13. 13.

    Committee on Armed Services, US House of Representatives. The Department of Defense Excess Property Program in Support of US Law Enforcement Agencies: An Overview of DOD Authorities, Roles, Responsibilities, and Implementation of Section 1033 of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act (US Government Publishing Office, 2014).

  14. 14.

    Coyne, C. J. & Hall, A. R. Tyranny Comes Home: The Domestic Fate of US Militarism (Stanford Univ. Press, 2018).

  15. 15.

    Schrader, S. Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing (Univ. of California Press, 2019).

  16. 16.

    Ashton, P., Petteruti, A. & Walsh, N. Rethinking the Blues: How We Police in the US and at What Cost (Justice Policy Institute, 2012).

  17. 17.

    US Government Accountability Office. DOD Excess Property: Enhanced Controls Needed for Access to Excess Controlled Property (US Government, 2017).

  18. 18.

    Ajilore, O. The militarization of local law enforcement: is race a factor? Appl. Econ. Lett. 22, 1089–1093 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Baumgart, Z. Crime, Arrests, Legitimacy or Race? Militarization of American Police from 1990 to 2007 (Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, 2016).

  20. 20.

    Masera, F. Bringing war home: violent crime, police killings and the overmilitarization of the US police. Preprint at SSRN https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2851522 (2016).

  21. 21.

    Delehanty, C., Mewhirter, J., Welch, R. & Wilks, J. Militarization and police violence: the case of the 1033 Program. Res. Politics https://doi.org/10.1177/2053168017712885 (2017).

  22. 22.

    Bove, V. & Gavrilova, E. Police officer on the frontline or a soldier? The effect of police militarization on crime. Am. Econ. J. Econ. Policy 9, 1–18 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Harris, M. C., Park, J., Bruce, D. J. & Murray, M. N. Peacekeeping force: effects of providing tactical equipment to local law enforcement. Am. Econ. J. Econ. Policy 9, 291–313 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Lawson, E. Jr. Police militarization and the use of lethal force. Polit. Res. Q. 72, 177–189 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Carriere, K. R. & Encinosa, W. The risks of operational militarization: increased conflict against militarized police. Peace Econ. Peace Sci. Public Policy 23, 1–13 (2017).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Mummolo, J. Militarization fails to enhance police safety or reduce crime but may harm police reputation. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 115, 9181–9186 (2018).

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Ramey, D. M. & Steidley, T. Policing through subsidized firepower: an assessment of rational choice and minority threat explanations of police participation in the 1033 Program. Criminology 56, 812–856 (2018).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Lawson, E.Jr Trends: police militarization and the use of lethal force. Polit. Res. Q. 72, 177–189 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Masera, F. Police safety, killings by the police, and the militarization of us law enforcement. Preprint at SSRN https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3342922 (2019).

  30. 30.

    McQuoid, A. & Vitt, D. Public safety, private harm: the impact of police militarization on mortality and suicide. Preprint at SSRN https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3072433 (2018).

  31. 31.

    Insler, M. A., McMurrey, B. & McQuoid, A. F. From broken windows to broken bonds: militarized police and social fragmentation. J. Econ. Behav. Organ. 163, 43–62 (2019).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Wickes, G. C. Demystifying ‘militarization’: a partial analysis of the impact of the U.S. Department of Defense’s ‘1033’ equipment transfer program on police officer safety outcomes. Graduate thesis, Georgetown University. http://hdl.handle.net/10822/760998 (2015).

  33. 33.

    McQuoid, A. F. & Haynes Jr., J. B. The thin (red) blue line: police militarization and violent crime. Departmental Working Papers 56 https://ideas.repec.org/p/usn/usnawp/56.html (United States Naval Academy Department of Economics, 2017).

  34. 34.

    Davenport, A. C. et al. An Evaluation of the Department of Defense’s Excess Property Program (RAND Corporation, 2018).

  35. 35.

    Maltz, M. D. & Targonski, J. A note on the use of county-level UCR data. J. Quant. Criminol. 18, 297–318 (2002).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Cassidy, M. MCSO terminated from military-surplus program. AZcentral.com https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/phoenix/2014/09/10/mcso-terminated-military-surplus-program/15429659/ (10 September, 2004).

  37. 37.

    Gelman, A. & Carlin, J. Beyond power calculations: assessing type S (sign) and type M (magnitude) errors. Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 9, 641–651 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Gross, J. H. Testing what matters (if you must test at all): a context-driven approach to substantive and statistical significance. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 59, 775–788 (2015).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Rainey, C. Arguing for a negligible effect. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 58, 1083–1091 (2014).

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors received no specific funding for this work. Drafts of this paper were presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Boston, MA, and at the 2018 symposium The Benefits (and Costs) of Policing, organized by the Policing Project at New York University School of Law. We thank M. Harris, J. Park, D. Bruce and M. Murray for comments and feedback. We thank P. Zachary for assistance in developing this study.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

A.G. contributed to the research design, analysis and collection of data, and is the lead author. E.C. and K.J.S. contributed to the analysis and collection of data and writing. T.S.C. contributed to development of the research idea, research design, collection of data, interpretation of the analysis, and writing. A.N.G. contributed to development of the research idea, research design, direction of the analysis, interpretation of the analysis, and writing. M.L.O. contributed to development of the research idea, the literature review and writing.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Tom S. Clark.

Ethics declarations

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Primary handling editor: Aisha Bradshaw.

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

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results including Supplementary Tables 1–21, Supplementary Figs. 1–10 and Supplementary References.

Reporting Summary

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Gunderson, A., Cohen, E., Schiff, K.J. et al. Counterevidence of crime-reduction effects from federal grants of military equipment to local police. Nat Hum Behav (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-00995-5

Download citation

Search

Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing