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October 13, 2017

"Financing the War on Drugs: The Impact of Law Enforcement Grants on Racial Disparities in Drug Arrests"

The title of this post is the title of this notable paper authored by Robynn Cox and Jamein Cunningham that I just noticed on SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

We estimate the effectiveness of the Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Program, a grant program authorized under the 1988 Anti-Drug Abuse Act to combat illicit drug abuse and to improve the criminal justice system, on racial bias in policing. Funds for the Byrne Grant program could be used for a variety of purposes to combat drug crimes, as well as violent and other drug related crimes.

The event-study analysis suggests that implementation of this grant resulted in an increase in police hiring and an increase in arrests for drug trafficking. Post-treatment effect implies a 107 percent increase in white arrests for drug sales compared to a 44 percent increase for blacks 6 years after the first grant is received.  However, due to historical racial differences in drug arrests, the substantial increase in white drug arrest still results in large racial disparities in drug arrests.  This is supported by weighted least squares regression estimates that show, for every $100 increase in Byrne Grant funding, arrests for drug trafficking increased by roughly 22 per 100,000 white residents and by 101 arrests per 100,000 black residents.

The results provide strong evidence that federal involvement in narcotic control and trafficking lead to an increase in drug arrests; disproportionally affecting blacks.

October 13, 2017 at 01:55 PM | Permalink


"The results provide strong evidence that federal involvement in gun control and trafficking lead to an increase in firearms arrests; disproportionally affecting blacks."

Wow, gun-control laws are jim-crow laws, who knew? Hillary calling them "super predators" definitely wasn't a tip-off . . .

Posted by: Will, Smith, and Wesson | Oct 14, 2017 8:22:45 AM

Could the racial disparity have anything to do with the racial disparity in crime?

If you look at crime counted by victimization, that disparity is real, and not the result of bias. Actually, black crime victims are not as valued nor as protected, and the disparity of arrests and imprisonment needs to be even bigger.

Posted by: David Behar | Oct 14, 2017 6:36:53 PM

When an outcome increases in prevalence, the group with the lower baseline rate for the outcome tends to experiencing a larger proportionate increase in its rate of experiencing the outcome (thus reducing the relative difference in rates of experiencing the outcome), while the other group tends to experience a larger proportionate decrease in its rate of experiencing the opposite outcome (thus increasing the relative difference in rates of experiencing that outcome). Thus, for example, as poverty increases relative racial differences in poverty rates tend to decrease while relative racial differences in rates of avoiding poverty tend to increase. Reductions in poverty would tend to increase relative differences in poverty rates while reducing relative differences in rates of avoiding poverty. See Table 2 of reference 1.

Absolute differences between rates tend also to be affected by the prevalence of an outcome though in a more complicated way than the two relative differences. Roughly, as uncommon outcomes (below 50% for both groups being compared) increase, absolute differences tend to increase; as common outcomes (above 50% for both groups) increase, absolute differences tend to decrease. The opposite tends to happen when outcomes decrease rather than increase. This, too, is illustrated with regard to poverty in Table 2 of reference 1 (where black and white rates are in ranges were increases in poverty tend to increase absolute racial differences in poverty rates (or rates of avoiding poverty) and decreases in poverty tend to reduce such differences. The illustration would also hold for things like unemployment, suspension from school, and arrests, where black and white rates are in also ranges where general increase will tend to increase absolute differences and general decreases will tend to reduce absolute differences.

With regard to criminal justice outcomes, it is more common to find racial disparities discussed in terms of relative differences in adverse outcomes and measures that are functions of the relative differences in adverse outcomes. Further, almost universally observers and the federal government believe that reducing adverse outcomes will tend to reduce relative differences in rates of experiencing the outcome. Exactly the opposite is the case, as discussed in the first paragraph above and as found by Cox and Cunningham in the matter they examined. See reference 1 to 6.

Lately much attention has been given to the way that “despite” reductions in incarceration rates, relative racial difference in incarceration have increased, as in the September 2017 Sentencing Project study discussed in reference 6 and an assortment of articles discussing that study. Had the study relied on absolute differences, it would have found decreasing racial disparities.

In the current world of social science – where there is no knowledge of the ways measures tend to be affected by the prevalence of an outcome and no rules about what measures may be used – researchers can say pretty much whatever they want about whether this or that policy increases or decreases disparities. So far in human history, however, no one has ever analyzed whether an observed pattern in whatever measure the observer happens to be looking at is anything other than the standard consequence of a change in the prevalence of an outcome.

1. “Race and Mortality Revisited,” Society (July/Aug. 2014)
2. “The Paradox of Lowering Standards,” Baltimore Sun (Aug. 5, 2013)
3. “Things DoJ doesn’t know about racial disparities in Ferguson,” The Hill (Feb. 22, 2016)
4. “Innumeracy at the Department of Education and the Congressional Committees Overseeing It,” Federalist Society Blog (Aug. 24, 2017)
5. “Compliance Nightmare Looms for Baltimore Police Department,” Federalist Society Blog (Feb. 8, 2017)
6. “The Pernicious Misunderstanding of Effects or Policies on Racial Differences in Criminal Justice Outcomes,” Federalist Society Blog (Oct. 12, 2017)

Posted by: James Scanlan | Oct 31, 2017 12:07:09 AM

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