A reduction in the systematic and aggressive enforcement of minor violations by police may reduce major crime complaints, suggests a paper published this week in Nature Human Behaviour. This finding challenges conventional thoughts on the relationship between authority and compliance.
The last few decades have seen widespread adoption of proactive policing strategies that are thought to discourage more serious criminal activity. These crime deterrence measures include the patrolling of communities, and increases in police stops, summonses and low-level arrests. However, their efficacy is an ongoing topic of debate. Proactive policing has also come under intense public scrutiny for its disproportionate impacts on low-income and communities of color resulting in potentially discriminatory practices.
In this study, LSU Department of Political Science Assistant Professor Christopher Sullivan and collaborator Zachary O'Keeffe, a University of Michigan Ph.D. student, gathered baseline New York Police Department, or NYPD, crime data from 2013-2016. They studied a specific 7-week period in late 2014 and early 2015 when the NYPD effectively halted proactive policing in response to anti-police brutality protests following the death of Eric Garner. From this data, the researchers have been able to draw causal conclusions about the relationship between proactive policing measures and major crime complaints. Their results show that public complaints of major crimes, including murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand theft auto, declined by 3-6 percent during the halt on proactive policing.
They also show that under-reporting of crime did not bias the results.
"The results are striking," Sullivan said. "'Order Maintenance style' policing tactics have been shown to increase economic and political inequality, destabilize communities and impair the mental health of young people. Finding that proactive policing may also be counter-productive in deterring major crime suggests that it is time to reconsider where, how and why proactive policing is deployed."
The researchers conclude that certain policing tactics may result in serious criminal activity. They also speculate that proactive policing reform may decrease rates of major crime and increase well-being in heavily policed communities. Further research is needed to understand the long-term effects of a reduction in proactive policing as well as the generalizability of these findings to locations other than New York City.