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October 29, 2004

Donahue on Police and Crime: Federal Subsidies of Local Police

There's a new electronic BEPRESS journal out for public policy, nontechnical, articles. John Donohue's (September 18, 2004) "Clinton and Bush's Report Cards on Crime Reduction: The Data Show Bush Policies Are Undermining Clinton Gains" is interesting. He notes that the number of police per capita increased in the Clinton years and has declined slightly in the Bush years. Clinton had a program that was giving a billion dollars or so a year to cities to hire police, though funding was cut in half from 1999 to 2000, even before Bush took office. Of course, the most important feature of the Clinton years was a booming economy and fast-growing state and local spending generally. Donahue's data stops in 2002, and the first couple of Bush years were not prosperous ones for city governments.

Donahue says that a 10% increase in police reduces crime by about 5%, which is remarkable. If that is true, though, then we must ask why cities (and states) do not fund more police themselves, rather than waiting for federal funds for what is a local concern. The city (and state, via lower prison spending) gets the benefit, so why wouldn't they be willing to pay the cost? My main criticism of the Clinton program is that it seems like a way for the President to reward cities that support him with cash for their local spending, paid for by taxes generally, including from localities that do not support him.

Posted by erasmuse at October 29, 2004 04:10 PM

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See the Division of Labor weblog for criticism of Donahue's piece along the same lines, but with more links. That led me to the
Cafe Hayek piece by Russell Roberts on economics in op-eds and weblogs, which is worth reading.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen at October 30, 2004 04:52 PM

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