“Democratic Mayors Have No Effect on Crime, But Do Reduce the Black Share of Arrests for Petty Crimes,” Justin de Benedictis-Kessner, Harvard University

Event time: 
Wednesday, January 18, 2023 - 12:00pm to 1:15pm
Institution for Social and Policy Studies (PROS77 ), A002 See map
77 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511
Event description: 


Abstract: We examine whether mayors’ partisan affiliations lead to differences in crime rates, arrest rates, and the racial composition of arrests. We employ a regression discontinuity design centered around close mayoral elections to determine the causal effect of electing a Democratic rather than Republican mayor on policing and crime outcomes in medium and large US cities. Mayoral partisanship does not affect overall crime rates, arrests, or police employment and expenditures. However, it does influence the racial distribution of arrests. The election of a Democratic mayor decreases the Black share of arrests by a modest amount. This effect is driven by decreases in arrests of Black individuals for both “drug crimes” and “other crimes.” This may be tied to police staffing choices, as electing a Democratic mayor also affects police officer demographics: electing a Democratic mayor increases the Black share of police officers. These results reaffirm the importance of politics in policing. This paper is co-authored with Matthew Harvey, Daniel Jones, and Christopher Warshaw.

Justin de Benedictis-Kessner is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He is a political scientist who teaches and does research on American politics, with a particular focus on public policy and political behavior in urban and local politics. His current research focuses on some of the most important policy areas that concern government, and which are primarily handled by local governments, such as housing, policing, and transportation. His research examines how citizens hold elected these local officials accountable, how representation translates their interests into policy via elections, and how people’s policy opinions are formed and swayed. His work has received the Clarence Stone Emerging Scholar Award and the Norton Long Young Scholar Award from the American Political Science Association, and has been supported by funding from the MIT Election Data + Science Lab, Time-sharing Experiments for the Social Sciences (TESS), the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and the Boston Area Research Initiative. He received his PhD from the Department of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his B.A. in Government and Psychology from the College of William & Mary.

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