Public concern about harmful policing is surging. Governments are paying historic amounts for law enforcement liability. Has police behavior changed? Or is society responding differently? Traditional data sources struggle with this question. Common metrics such as lawsuits and payouts conflate the prevalence and severity of policing harms with the responses of legal actors such as lawyers, judges, and juries. We overcome this problem using a new data source: liability insurance claims. Our dataset contains 23 years of claims against roughly 350 law enforcement agencies that contract with a single insurer. We find that while lawsuits and payouts have trended upwards over the past decade, insurance claims have declined. We generate and test multiple explanatory hypotheses. We conclude that, in our sample, police behavior is not getting worse; rather, public responses to policing harms are intensifying. Data selection, our analysis shows, strongly influences results in policing research.

Ouss, Aurelie and Rappaport, John, Is Police Behavior Getting Worse? The Importance of Data Selection in Evaluating the Police (January 28, 2019). University of Chicago Coase-Sandor Institute for Law & Economics Research Paper No. 865; U of Chicago, Public Law Working Paper No. 693. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3325382 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3325382



Aurelie Ouss

University of Pennsylvania

Aurelie Ouss is an Assistant Professor of Criminology at the University of Pennsylvania. She received her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University. Before that, she had a Master in Economics from the Paris School of Economics and a B.A. in Econometrics and Sociology. She comes to Penn from her post-doctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago Crime Lab.

John Rappaport

University of Chicago Law School

John Rappaport is an Assistant Professor of Law at The University of Chicago School of Law. He studies criminal procedure and the criminal justice system. His work examines the boundaries and interaction in criminal justice between public forces and private ones, including liability insurers, "retail justice" companies, and the private defense bar. John's current research focuses on policing and police misconduct, including the effects on police behavior of collective bargaining rights, unionization, and regulation by insurance.


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