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Elina Treyger and Vikram Maheshri
© Becky Kelleman

Spillover Effects on Crime

By Becky Kelleman, Rutgers University

The Broken Windows Theory, Arizona Legal Workers Act, and the Secure Communities Program were the hot topics at the session Spillover Effects on Crime on Friday, November 8. Clemencia Cosentino, Mathematica Policy Research, chaired the session and John MacDonald, University of Pennsylvania, provided integrative commentary. Vikram Maheshri, University of Houston; Elina Treyger, George Mason University; and Aaron Chalfin, University of California, Berkeley, presented compelling and engaging research that discussed the spillover effects of crime.

Maheshri asked two main questions: Is targeting a particular crime today effective at reducing crime tomorrow and is targeting light crime efficient. In his paper Do ‘Broken Windows’ Matter? Identifying Dynamic Spillovers in Criminal Behavior, Maheshri used a detailed database of every crime report filed with the Dallas, Texas Police Department from 2000-2007. His findings show no evidence that reduction in light crime lead to short or long term reductions in more severe crimes and targeting light crime is not efficient. Maheshri concluded by recommending policymakers should implement policies targeted specifically at severe crimes, if their aim is to decrease the prevalence of severe crime.

In the following panel paper, Estimating the Effects of Immigration Enforcement on Local Policing and Crime: Evidence from the Secure Communities Program,” Treyger discussed the federal program Secure Communities, launched in 2008. The program allows for the automatic transmission of fingerprints taken by local law enforcement agencies to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The FBI and DHS can then verify the arrestee’s immigration status. The program has staggered activation dates across counties. As a result, research examined whether the program has a discernible effect on local crime rates or demonstrates any bias by local law enforcement. The results: no discernible effects on crime rates or arrest rates. Treyger did not have any policy recommendations to note, yet offered that the Secure Communities program is not a crime control effective policy.

Continuing the discussion on immigration, Chalfin offered insights to the impact of the Legal Arizona Workers Act (LAWA). His panel paper, New Evidence on Mexican Immigration and U.S. Crime Rates: A Synthetic Control Study of the Arizona Legal Workers Act, leveraged a natural experiment created by Arizona legislation. His findings revealed 20 percent of foreign born Mexican immigrants left the state and a significant reduction in property crime, specifically car theft. Chaflin did not have any specific policy recommendations to share, but did say LAWA dramatically affected the young, male, Mexican population.

John MacDonald, the session’s discussant, concluded the session by sharing that the majority of studies are finding declines in crime, and that aggressive enforcement of nuisance crimes show continued declinations in crime.


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