Essays in Policing and Recidivism
This dissertation consists of three chapters in public economics, with a particular focus on the factors that influence officials in the justice system and the role of deterrence. All three chapters assess, in part, the extent to which traffic penalties influence the behavior of drivers, though with substantial variation in their approach.
The first utilizes daily variation in officer-level lenience, exploiting variation in pollen levels and officer sensitivity to pollen. I find that just under 20 percent of Florida Highway Patrol officers substantially alter their behavior when pollen levels are high, with most becoming less lenient. I further find that drivers that receive a citation, rather than a warning, are substantially less likely to be involved in a traffic accident in the following year.
In the second chapter, I examine the relationship between local financial incentives and police activity. Following the Florida legislature's imposition of limits on municipal revenue generation from fines levied on the public, I find several municipalities greatly reduced their focus on traffic enforcement. I then show that that this reduction in enforcement led to an increase in traffic accidents, with analysis at both the municipal and driver level.
In the third chapter, I turn to data from Maryland's court system. I find that judges are less inclined to issue suspended sentences when the revenue associated with a citation would benefit a local government with a poor credit rating. I exploit overlapping jurisdictions on similar roads in many Maryland counties, and instances in which judges hear cases outside of their usual court to support this conclusion. Unlike in previous chapters, judicial leniency here provides a direct incentive for safer driving, as probation is generally revoked if a further offence is committed. So, in line with expectations, I find that this reduction in leniency leads to a notable increase in traffic offenses among relevant drivers.
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