Unintended Consequences of De-funding the Police

There exists an essentially universal belief that generally reducing adverse criminal justice outcomes will tend to reduce (a) relative racial differences in rates of experiencing the outcomes (as commonly presented in terms of the ratio of the rate for Black individuals to that of white individuals) and (b) the proportion Black individuals make up of persons experiencing the outcomes (compared with the proportion they make up of the population).

The belief underlies the calls for defunding the police that were heard in many places over the past year. The belief also plays an important role in support for criminal justice reforms aimed at generally reducing prison populations, expanding options for pretrial release and diversion programs for defendants with low risk of recidivism, de-incentivizing traffic stops, and modifying police practices in ways that can reduce all adverse interactions between the police and the public.

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That is, when two groups differ in their susceptibility to an outcome, generally reducing the outcome tends to increase, not reduce, relative differences in rates of experiencing the outcome while reducing relative differences in rates of avoiding the outcome, i.e., experiencing the opposite outcome.

Correspondingly, reducing an outcome tends to increase the proportion the more susceptible group makes up of persons experiencing the outcome and persons avoiding the outcome. The pattern can be easily illustrated with test score data where two groups differ in the average performance on the test, as in Table 1 below.

The table is a slightly modified version of a table I used in my testimony at a December 2017 U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing on discipline disparities in public schools, where I attempted to explain the effects of reducing adverse discipline outcomes.

If your goal is to reduce disparities, being more strict seems to be the way to go.