We’re constantly hearing that hiring more policemen reducescrime, but is this really true? Law professor JonathanKlick says it is, and not by just a little bit either. Hefound a 15% reduction in crime in the police district wherethe White House and National Mall are located whenadditional officers were put on duty during high terroralert days.
The findings are significant because social scientists,lawmakers and others have long wondered whether spendingmore money on additional police is the answer to reducingcrime. Klick says, "We found that the additional police hada pretty big effect on crime. Our local and federalgovernments spend tons of money on policing, and it lookslike we may be justified in spending much more."
In fact, Klick, thinks we should increase the number of copsby 25%, although there may be a point of diminishingreturns. Already more than $65 billion is spent annually onpolice in the US. "We’re pretty confident that if weincrease police forces by one-fourth, we would get ourmoney’s worth," he says.
Although it seems obvious that more police should result inless crime, many previous studies have shown that isn’talways the case?or worse, that more police actually equalmore crime. It’s a puzzle that has been difficult to solvebecause cities with high crime rates already have morepolice. Do more police inspire the higher crime rates, or docities with high crime rates hire more police?
After the Office of Homeland Security implemented the terroralert system, Klick, who was working in Washington at thetime, noticed police officers on every corner during highalert times, for a reason that had nothing to do with thecity’s high crime rate. This gave him the opportunity toconduct a natural experiment to see what effect theincreased police presence had.
The reduction was mostly in street crimes, such asburglaries, stolen cars and purse snatchings, and these arethe crimes that people fear the most. The increased policepresence had no effect on murders and white collar crimes,because these usually take place out of sight.
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