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Objective. The objective of this article is to provide evidence about the effectiveness of drug law enforcement as a tool for reducing other types of crime. Considerable resources are devoted to enforcing our nation's drug laws, but existing research suggests that intensifying drug law enforcement may serve to increase, rather than decrease, crime. Method. Using data for 62 counties in New York State for 1996-2000, we estimate a set of models that evaluate the effects of recent drug arrests on reported rates of assault, robbery, burglary, and larceny. The estimated statistical model includes controls for fixed effects, time effects, autocorrelation, and heteroskedasticity. Results. The consistency of results is striking--there is no model in which drug arrests are found to have a significant negative relationship with crime. All crimes are positively related to arrests for the manufacture and sale of "hard drugs." Increases in total per capita drug arrests and arrests for "hard drug" possession are accompanied by higher rates for all crimes except assault. Increased arrests for the manufacture or sale of marijuana are associated with increases in larcenies. Conclusions. The empirical findings raise serious questions about the effectiveness of drug enforcement as a crime-control measure and suggest that significant social costs may arise from existing approaches to drug control.
Controversy over our nation's illegal drug policies and the emphasis on criminal justice system approaches for enforcement have escalated in recent years. These drug policies have resulted in large and growing economic costs for the public sector, with substantial increases in resources used by drug control and police agencies," the legal and corrections systems, and services,, for drug education and treatment. (1) Since President Nixon declared the war on drugs" in 1970, public policies have stressed increased penalties and expanded public-sector resources allocated to the criminal justice system for enforcing the nation's policy of prohibition of drugs such as heroin, cocaine, amphetamines, and marijuana. As a result, the United States now allocates about two-thirds of federal "drug control" spending for enforcement and interdiction to agencies that use police power for investigations, arrests, and prosecutions (Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), 2002).
At the federal level, spending for drug enforcement (including interdiction and intelligence) rose from about $1.5 billion in 1981 to over $12 billion by 2002. State-level spending for drug control activities has been estimated to be even higher. (2) Arrests for drug law violations have shown a similar pattern, increasing from under 600,000 a year in 1980 to over 1.5 million in 2002 (U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 1981, 2003). Because of intensified drug enforcement and stricter penalties, such as mandatory minimum sentencing at the federal level and in many states, the prison population has grown to over 2 million (U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2002).
To date, there has not been a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of federal and state drug enforcement policies (Miron, 2003). Published research has reached contradictory results regarding the effects of drug enforcement, drug use and abuse, and illegal drug markets. There is also disagreement about the effects of policy on public health, economic productivity, safety, and crime. The pervasive nature of the effects of drug use and drug policies on many facets of society and the difficulty of obtaining reliable data on illegal drug markets have made it difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of drug policies. A recent report by the National Research Council indicated that because of "a lack of investment in data and research," the nation is in no better position to perform a comprehensive assessment than it was 20 years ago, and that "it is unconscionable for this country to continue to carry out a public policy of this magnitude and cost without knowing whether and to what extent it is having the desired effect" (National Research Council, 2001:3-11).
The purpose of this study is to estimate an econometric model for New York State that evaluates the effects of recently intensified drug enforcement efforts on the incidence of assaults, robberies, burglaries, and larcenies. To estimate the model, recent evidence about crime rates, drug arrests, and related determinants of crime are collected for 62 counties in New York State for the years 1996-2000. A substantial amount of research has documented positive correlations between illicit drug use or sales and other types of crime, with a high percentage of arrested persons testing positive for illicit drugs (ONDCP, 2000). These findings are consistent with the recent trends of intensified drug enforcement and lower rates of reported crime. In addition, illicit drugs have been found to be contributing factors in the commission of many crimes because of pharmacological effects, the workings of illicit drug markets, and the behavior of some drug-dependent persons (Goldstein et al., 1997). However, statistical correlations are only suggestive of possible causation. Statistical results based on the estimation of a more comprehensive model of crime provide much stronger evidence.
This study employs the Becker (1968) economic model of crime that has been widely applied in empirical research on crime. Within the Becket framework, the "rational criminal" makes the decision to commit a crime based on an objective assessment of the expected benefits as well as the economic costs (e.g., resources used, foregone earnings, and risks of arrest, fines, and incarceration). Crime rates are modeled as a function of economic and demographic conditions, enforcement effectiveness, crime opportunities, and characteristics of local "crime markets." Criminal justice policies and methods of enforcement influence crime rates because they affect the likelihood of arrest and the severity of punishment, as well as the availability of criminal opportunities. A growing body of research based on the Becker model has demonstrated the significance of many of these factors as determinants of crime rates. (3) In recent years, the model has been adapted to assess the role of drug enforcement in explaining underlying rates of crime (e.g., Rasmussen and Benson, 1994; Miron, 1999; Kuziemko and Levitt, 2001). Based on findings from prior research, it is reasonable to include a measure of drug enforcement activity since it has been positively associated with the commission of crimes.
Because the effects of drug enforcement vary across different types of violent and property crime, these models are usually estimated separately for each type. There are also important differences between arrests for different categories of drugs (e.g., marijuana vs. heroin) and different illegal activities (e.g., possession vs. sale or manufacture). Thus, in addition to a model for total drug arrests, models for separate types of drug arrests are estimated in this article. Fixed-effects models for pooled time-series, cross-section data are used to evaluate the role of drug arrests on crime rates, while controlling for the influence of economic conditions, geographical characteristics, and overall law enforcement effectiveness. The findings contribute to the growing body of research into the effects of federal and state drug policies and provide the type of information needed for a comprehensive economic evaluation of federal and state drug policies.
The next section of this article discusses conceptual issues related to the microeconomic analysis of crime control and drug policies. It is followed by the development of the empirical model, a description of the data, and presentation of statistical results. A final section provides a summary and conclusions, including suggestions for further research.
Microeconomic Analysis of Drug Policies
Miron and Zwiebel (1995) and Rasmussen and Benson (1994) are among those who have examined the economics of drug prohibition in the context of supply and demand models. The objective of current drug control policies is to reduce both supply and demand by achieving a higher risk of arrest and incarceration for buyers and sellers and to create disruptions in supply. Reductions in supply and demand would reduce the quantity of illegal drugs sold, but have an indeterminate effect on prices. When resources are …