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A new study finds that getting more experienced officers into higher crime districts could have a number of upsides, including reduced violent crime rates.
Moving away from the seniority-based systems many big city police departments use to let officers choose the neighborhoods that they are assigned to could help reduce violent crime and yield other benefits, like fewer arrests and less incidents where officers use force.
That’s according to a new National Bureau of Economic Research working paper out this month. The study focuses on the large, racially diverse and heavily segregated city of Chicago. The city’s police department is the second largest in the U.S., with more than 10,000 officers.
The authors find that a process that allows Chicago police to pick district assignments based on seniority results in more experienced officers going to less violent and more affluent neighborhoods, leaving newer officers patrolling parts of town with higher crime rates.
Officers of all races and ethnicities show a strong preference to work in safer districts, according to the paper.
While the study looks at Chicago, police departments in other cities, like New York, Los Angeles, Houston, Miami and Philadelphia, assign officers using similar systems.
The researchers model a scenario where senior officers would receive pay subsidies as incentives to take assignments in less desirable neighborhoods.
They conclude that equalizing assignments in this way, so that senior officers are more spread out across the city’s districts, could reduce the violent crime rate sharply in the highest crime neighborhoods and by 4.6% for the city overall.
More senior officers, according to the paper, make significantly fewer arrests for low-level crimes, like drug or traffic offenses and use force less often than their newer peers.
Keeping in line with that finding, the researchers predict that under the modeled scenario there would be a decline in “discretionary” arrests and incidents where officers use force in Chicago’s poorest and most segregated Black neighborhoods.
“Putting all of the results together, more experienced officers appear to deter violent crime while making fewer low-level arrests and using less force,” the authors write.
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Andre Claudio is an assistant editor for Route Fifty