NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Arresting Criminals Lowers Crime

March 6, 2003

During the 1990s, crime rates in New York City dropped dramatically, even more than in the United States as a whole. Violent crime declined by more than 56 percent in the city, compared to about 28 percent nationally. Property crimes tumbled by about 65 percent, but fell only 26 percent nationally.

How did they do it? According to researchers with the National Bureau of Economic Research:

  • A single percentage point decline in the jobless rate decreased burglary by 2.2 percent and motor vehicle theft by 1.8 percent.
  • With a 10 percent increase in the minimum wage there were 3.4 to 3.7 percent fewer robberies and 6.3 to 6.9 percent fewer murders.

However, the most effective crime reduction strategy was an increase in the numbers arrested for felony crimes, according to the study. Felony arrest rates rose 50 to 70 percent in the 1990s.

  • When arrests of burglars rose 10 percent, the number of burglaries fell 2.7 to 3.2 percent.
  • When the arrest rate of robbers rose 10 percent, the number of robberies fell 5.7 to 5.9 percent.
  • In the case of murder, the decline was 3.9 to 4.0 percent; in the case of assault, 2 to 2.4 percent, and for motor vehicle theft, 5 to 5.1 percent.

Researchers conclude that deterrence measures contributed more to the decline in crime than the fall in unemployment during the 1990s economic boom.

Source: David R. Francis, "What Reduced Crime In New York City," NBER Digest, January 2003; based on Hope Corman and Naci Mocan, "Carrots, Sticks and Broken Windows," Working Paper No. 9061, July 2002, National Bureau of Economic Research.

For NBER Digest text

For abstract


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