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More Cops, Less Crime?

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In conjunction with James Q. Wilson's op-ed about the recent Pew report on incarceration and crime rates, Bill Stuntz states about a week ago:

One of the key lessons of the Iraq surge is that putting more boots on violent ground tends to reduce the violence. The same lesson applies in American cities, but for the most part, the lesson hasn’t been learned. For reasons that mystify me, the same state and federal governments that shower money on urban school systems give nearly nothing to urban police forces. That gets it backward: the correlation between more money and better schools is weak at best; the correlation between more cops and less crime is very strong.


There's much more to Professor Stuntz's post, including:

Overstretched big-city police forces tend to make lots of drug arrests, because those arrests are easy to make—and too few arrests for violent crimes, which require more manpower to investigate. Over time, those police forces have come to see drug punishment as a substitute for punishing violent crime. As the crime statistics of the last generation show, that substitution doesn’t work.

Perhaps this is true, but disentangling violence from drugs is a tall order:

homicide rate.jpg

From Bureau of Justice Statistics

Many more good thoughts about race, crime, and drugs from Professor Stuntz here and here.

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I tend to agree with Stuntz that more "boots on the ground" reduces crime, but disagree with Wilson. NYC's example shows that flooding problem areas with beat cops has a tremendous preventive effect.

As for disentangling drugs and crime, for starters we must understand that distribution networks, not end users, are the source of violence. The Texas DPS Narcotics division a couple of years ago changed its rules to place "no priority" on arresting "end users" and user-dealers, focusing instead on multi-person "drug trafficking organizations." In the first year under the new rules, arrests declined 40%, but drug seizures doubled because they caught bigger fish. For users, a harm reduction approach IMO does more to prevent crime.

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