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Exploitative Revenues, Law Enforcement, and the Quality of Government Service

Highlights

A 1% increase in revenues from fines and fees is associated with a 3.7% decrease in the violent crime clearance rate.

This study uses US Census data and Uniform Crime Reporting data to assess whether law enforcement participation in revenue collection affects police departments’ ability to solve violent crime. The authors identify a statistically significant correlation between revenue collection by police departments and a failure to solve violent crime.

In order to better understand how “reliance on police-collected fees and fines for revenue affects crime clearance in local areas,” the authors analyzed 5,935 unique municipal governments that have an independent police force. Revenue reliance data was sourced from the Census of Government and crime clearance data came from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting data.

You can read the full text of the study here, but it is behind a paywall.

Key Findings
  • A 1% increase in the share of revenues from fees, fines, and forfeitures collected by a municipality is associated with a 3.7% decrease in the violent crime clearance rate.
  • Managers in police departments facing pressure from city officials to raise revenue encourage officers to devote time to revenue collection rather than investigation.
  • This effect is primarily driven by smaller police departments because police in small cities, in their capacity as “street-level bureaucrats,” have more discretion about which activities they can pursue. By contrast, police departments in major urban centers (e.g. NYPD, LAPD) have specialized teams that don’t handle as many different types of tasks, so departments are less likely to re-task officers with revenue collection.
  • Institutional changes – such as decreasing municipal government reliance on fines and fees for revenue – are an important step for changing police behavior and improving the provision of public safety.
Rebecca Goldstein, Michael W. Sances, Hye Young You
Urban Affairs Review
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