Paolo Pinotti, 01 August 2020

Understanding the economic incentives and consequences of crime is an important area of research with immense policy implications, but it is not without challenges. This column summarises new evidence from studies on the causes and consequences of crime in Italy, focusing on recent improvements that address challenges related to the measurement of crime and to the identification of a clear effect of crime on economic outcomes.

Lena Edlund, Cecilia Machado, 27 June 2020

The urban renewal that transformed many US inner cities may have hit its first major speed bump with the outbreak of Covid-19. The ‘space versus commute’ trade-off has been thrown into doubt and confusion by work-from-home orders. This column draws on socioeconomic history, arguing that a mass exodus of skilled professionals to the suburbs could have major implications for inner city areas. Although this could spell the return to the homicidal days of the 1980s, the authors argue that this may not be the case – the reason being: cell phones and how they have impacted illicit drug retailing.

Theodoros Rapanos, Marc Sommer, Yves Zenou, 06 February 2020

Information and social norms matter in people’s decisions whether to commit crimes. Strategic interactions in networks influence the gap between the actual and perceived risks and costs of being caught. The column sets out a game framework in which the expectations of potential criminals are influenced by their peers. Surprisingly, severing these information links – even between relatively active offenders – does not necessarily lead to a decrease in the aggregate level of crime.

Anna Bindler, Randi Hjalmarsson, 27 January 2020

Determining whether increased policing reduces crime is a difficult task, in part because policing affects crime and crime also affects policing. This column approaches the problem historically, asking whether the introduction of the first professional police forces in the 19th century, from the London Metropolitan Police onwards, reduced crime. It finds that when police forces were sufficiently large and well-regulated, they had a crime-reducing effect that, while not immediate, did persist over time.

Francesco Drago, Roberto Galbiati, Francesco Sobbrio, 24 December 2019

Assessing how voters respond to public policies they like or dislike is challenging due to the absence of counterfactual scenarios. This column exploits a collective pardon of prisoners in response to prison overcrowding in Italy in 2006 to show that voters punish incumbent politicians for unpopular policies they are deemed responsible for. Regions with greater incidents of recidivism were those where incumbent politicians fared more poorly in post-pardon elections.

Vladimir Otrachshenko, Olga Popova, José Tavares, 22 December 2019

There is evidence that hot climatic temperatures and crime are linked. With climate change raising temperatures around the world, it is possible we may see higher levels of personal aggression. Based on data from Russia, this column shows that on hotter days, women are more likely to be killed in homicides, especially over weekends. Colder days have no similar effect on violence. Lower wages and higher unemployment contribute to higher homicide rates, so policies promoting employment may mitigate victimisation during extreme temperature days.

Vincenzo Bove, Leandro Elia, Massimiliano Ferraresi, 25 August 2019

Between 2014 and 2017, more than 600,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean and took up residence in Italy. Though crime rates during the same period continued to drop, a majority of Italians report feeling increasingly unsafe. This column investigates how immigration affects the perception of crime and the allocation of resources. Using detailed Italian government-spending figures along with municipal-level data on the population of foreign-born residents, it finds that immigration led to increased spending for police protection due not to higher crime rates but to the deterioration of social capital and unfounded fears of criminality.

Christian Dippel, Michael Poyker, 06 August 2019

The first private prison in the US opened in 1984. Over the next three decades, the imprisoned population increased by 194% while the country’s overall population increased by only 36%. This column examines the relationship between these two events, asking whether the growth of the private prison industry contributed to climbing incarceration rates. It concludes that private prisons moderately increased sentence lengths but not the likelihood of conviction, and finds no evidence that private prisons directly influenced judges or exacerbated existing racial biases in the judicial system.

Ignacio Munyo, Martín Rossi, 30 June 2019

An increasing number of cities worldwide use surveillance cameras to prevent crime, but little is known about whether these cameras reduce crime or simply move it to other locations. This column studies the impact of a large-scale introduction of police-monitored cameras in Montevideo, Uruguay. The findings indicate a 20% reduction in crime in areas of the city where the cameras are located, with no evidence of a displacement effect. The programme also appears to offer value for money compared with other security and crime prevention measures.

Mathieu Couttenier, Sophie Hatte, Mathias Thoenig, Stephanos Vlachos, 02 April 2019

Populists often claim that immigration is a threat to the interests of the majority. This column quantifies the extent to which the media coverage of immigrant crime fuelled populist political support in a Swiss referendum. It finds that disproportionate coverage of immigrant crime increased an anti-minaret vote by 5%.

Amanda Agan, Michael Makowsky, 10 November 2018

Individuals with a criminal record face difficulties in the labour market that can compel them to reoffend. This column reveals how increases in the minimum wage in the US reduce the likelihood of recently released felons being reincarcerated, while an income-related tax subsidy has a similar effect for women, but not men. The results suggest significant welfare benefits from policiesthat help raise wages above the potential income from criminal activity.

Stephen Machin, 26 October 2018

We know that increasing the school leaving age cuts crime, but why? Is it because kids who are most likely to commit crimes are learning things that make them more employable, or is just because they're off the streets? Tim Phillips talks to Steve Machin of the LSE about new research into the importance of these effects.

Brian Bell, Rui Costa, Stephen Machin, 14 October 2018

Changes to compulsory school leaving laws that force some people to stay in school longer have been shown to boost education and reduce crime. This column uses changes in such laws in the US to show that the driver behind the reduction in crime is not better employment outcomes, but ‘dynamic incapacitation’. Crime rates peak at age 18, and keeping teenagers in school during this key period can help ensure that they never proceed down the wrong track.

Carlos Díaz, Eleonora Patacchini, Thierry Verdier, Yves Zenou, 23 September 2018

Many policies to tackle youth involvement in crime have been suggested over the years. This column argues that being ‘socially’ close to criminal leaders strongly affects a person’s involvement in crime. Focusing on criminal activities in schools in the US, it shows that a policy that removes all criminal leaders from a school can, on average, reduce criminal activity by about 20% and the individual probability of becoming a criminal by 10%.

Hope Corman, Dhaval Dave, Nancy Reichman, 08 September 2018

The 1996 welfare reform in the US was a major policy shift that sought to reduce dependence of single parents on government benefits by promoting work, encouraging marriage, and reducing non-marital childbearing. This column describes how the reform led to a decline in illicit drug use among women at risk of relying on welfare, a decrease in female arrests for property crime, and smaller declines in voting for women exposed to the reform compared to several similar comparison groups. The findings offer evidence that limiting cash assistance and encouraging work can lead to reductions in socially undesirable behaviours and increases in prosocial community behaviours.

Richard Disney, 30 July 2018

It is commonly assumed that policing in Britain cannot keep up with rising crime levels. Richard Disney shows that, while some police forces in the country do better than others, in recent years the average performance of police forces has not changed. He also discusses key challenges British police face today, from the nature of crimes they must tackle to their labour demand.

Christian Dustmann, Rasmus Landersø, 18 May 2018

Does a person’s criminal behaviour induce others to commit crime? This column exploits the fact that young fathers in Denmark are less likely to continue their criminal careers if their new-born child is a boy rather than a girl to identify spillovers in criminal behaviour. The analysis shows that neighbourhood peers of new fathers of boys become less likely to commit crime themselves than neighbourhood peers of new fathers of girls. The findings suggest that the benefits of programmes that reduce crime at a younger age are far larger than suggested by the primary effects alone. 

Rafael Di Tella, Lucía Freira, Ramiro Gálvez, Ernesto Schargrodsky, Diego Shalom, Mariano Sigman, 16 January 2018

Governments in Latin America seemingly go unpunished at election times for high crime rates. This column examines whether the region’s high tolerance for crime is the result of ‘desensitisation’, with people reacting less to crime the more they are exposed to it. It finds that victims of crime become desensitised compared with non-victims, helping to explain tolerance to crime and a weak relationship between crime and happiness in high-crime areas.

David Autor, Christopher Palmer, Parag Pathak, 16 November 2017

Separating cause from effect is notoriously difficult when it comes to gentrification and neighbourhood amenities, including public safety. This column exploits the sudden ending of a rent control regime in Cambridge, MA to examine whether and by how much gentrification affects crime. In the years immediately following the end of rent control, crime fell significantly more in neighbourhoods that had been heavily rent controlled. But those neighbourhoods also saw the highest turnover in occupants, suggesting that incumbent renters in these areas were priced out of their properties and thus missed out on the benefits from gentrification.

Pietro A. Bianchi, Antonio Marra, Donato Masciandaro, Nicola Pecchiari, 13 September 2017

Economic theory doesn’t provide a clear prediction on how a firm’s performance will be affected if some of its board members have ties to organised crime. This column explores this issue using a unique Italian dataset that includes confidential information about ongoing investigations. Seven percent of firms are found to have at least one director under investigation, and these firms demonstrate, on average, lower levels of cash holdings and worse profitability compared with ‘untainted’ firms.



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