Panel Paper: Public Goods Theory, Equity, and Policing Programs of U.S. Municipalities

Friday, November 3, 2017
Stetson F (Hyatt Regency Chicago)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Agustin Leon-Moreta, University of New Mexico

Inequality in policing has become a defining policy problem of our time. Events of recent years heighten the sense of urgency about policing programs, and concerns persist among the public regarding equality in the performance of those programs. While some municipalities deploy substantial resources for policing, other municipalities deploy minimal resources for public safety programs. What factors determine the provision of policing services?

The importance of this research for theory and practice relates to the central role of policing in American local government and policy. Although policing programs of municipalities are intended to attain public safety, there are continued allegations concerning the proper deployment of policing force in American communities. Allegations include policing bias and brutality against minority groups, among others. The implications for equality are critical.

The proposed research builds from theories of public goods and equality. Policing has been traditionally conceptualized a public good; nonetheless, policing has differential effects on communities. While communities benefit from public safety, some groups perceive policing in a less positive manner. This includes segments of racial minorities, for example, that have had a strained relationship with police agencies. Also, if municipalities have a differential ability to finance policing programs, then perceptions of inequalities arise within communities. This raises the question of interactions between socioeconomic conditions and ability to provide public safety services in America.

This paper presents an empirical study of determinants of policing programs. Using the recent 2012 Census of Governments, it presents a national dataset for policing staffing and expenditures of municipalities. Preliminary findings are that wide inequalities are prevalent: some municipalities allocate substantial resources, whereas other municipalities allocate minimal resources for policing programs. Inequality in public safety therefore motivates an empirical investigation of factors affecting policing programs. This paper explores socioeconomic factors and institutional factors: Data for socioeconomic and institutional factors are assembled from a variety of national sources, such as the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports and (proprietary) data from the University of Chicago’s GSS. To examine how those factors shape policing programs of municipalities, the paper employs quantile analysis—a research technique of growing usage in the social sciences. According to our quantile analysis, we find that socioeconomic and institutional factors are both significant factors underlying unevenness in public safety programs.

This research, and its proposed database, will be of interest to researchers and practitioners working in the areas of public goods theory, urban inequality, and policing programs in American municipalities.

Full Paper: