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


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.

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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.

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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.

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Authors and Affiliations



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.

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Correspondence to Tom S. Clark.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Primary handling editor: Aisha Bradshaw.

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Supplementary Information

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

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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 5, 194–204 (2021).

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