ILA staff reviews “gun policy” studies regularly. Those clamoring for federal funding for gun-policy research should set themselves up with a Google Scholar alert, but not everything we want to highlight is directly related to gun policy. Crime is a complex issue and criminals are—shockingly—at the root of “gun crime.”
Studies and position papers published by doctors or medical professionals call for a public-health approach to reducing “gun violence” but their policy suggestions are always focused on law-abiding gun owners—and their recommendations omit any sort of law enforcement component when they write about having a conversation to determine the path forward.
“More COPS, Less Crime” is a new study published in The Journal of Public Economics that looks explicitly at the effect of law enforcement on crime. Steven Mello, a Ph.D. candidate in Economics at Princeton University, used the resurgence in funding for the Community Oriented Policing Service (COPS) hiring program under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act as a natural experiment to estimate the causal effect of police on crime. He found that each additional police officer hired prevented four violent crimes and 15 property crimes. Mello attributes the decrease in crime to a deterrence effect that additional law enforcement officers have rather than an increase in arrest rate.
The key finding is: “Among violent crimes, the results are negative and statistically significant for murder, rape, and robbery, while the estimate is not significant for assault.” Mello’s findings for murder are limited by the variability in the murder rate, his research implies that “one life can be saved by hiring about 9.5 new police officers.”
Mello’s findings offer a quantitative contribution to the common-sense conviction that police officers reduce crime—and not just by locking everyone up. Mello may follow in the footsteps of John Donohue and other anti-gun researchers, but we have no qualms with his findings here.
Police fight crime, criminals break the law. Add more police and crime falls. It makes sense. Just as it makes sense to focus “gun violence” solutions on criminals instead of law-abiding gun owners.