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


Many U.S. cities witnessed both de-policing and increased crime in 2020, yet it remains unclear whether the former contributed to the latter. Indeed, much of what is known about the effects of proactive policing on crime comes from studies that evaluate highly focused interventions atypical of day-to-day policing, use cities as the unit of analysis, or cannot 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 COVID-19 and social unrest following 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. Multilevel models accounting for trends in prior police activity, neighborhood structure, seasonality, and population mobility revealed mixed results. On 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.


NOTE: This paper was originally posted as a pre-print on SocArXiv on March 3, 2023. On October 2, 2023, it was accepted for publication by Criminology. It is scheduled to appear in the February 2024 issue.

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Justin Nix
Justin Nix
Distinguished Associate Professor

My research centers on policing with emphases on procedural justice, legitimacy, and police shootings.

Jessie Huff
Jessie Huff
Assistant Professor

My research interests include program evaluation, police strategy, and crime mapping.