More careful reading of the NYT leads me to update the post of a few minutes ago to include recent bolded police stats that would appear to support the contrarian hypothesis below.
The news that arrests in NYC have fallen 66% as an apparent result of an unofficial and informal job action by the police sets images of research sugar plum fairies dancing in my head. (For a more detailed story on the stats, see here.)
Setting aside the tendentious questions of whether police who stop enforcing the law can be said to be complying with their oaths, and thus whether they can be said to be generally trustworthy (a good question for cross examination on the stand), and indeed whether it is appropriate under civil service rules for them to keep their jobs, this job action offers a remarkable natural experiment.
We will soon know if reported crime rates rise or fall. We could do rapid victimization surveys to find out if unreported rates rise or fall. We might even find out the relationship between broken windows policing and serious crimes, and whether the alleged practice of arresting to get information actually has an impact.
Indeed, the first weeks stats seem to suggest that the serious crimes are falling. From the Times:
Yet reports of major crimes citywide continued their downward trajectory, falling to 1,813 from 2,127 for the week, a nearly 15 percent drop, according to Police Department statistics.
This might have a major impact on understanding of the relationship between policing and crime. My own suspicion is that heavy enforcement may help get rates down in the short term, but is not needed in the long term, but rather may increase criminal behavior in the long term, through increased alienation, particularly when people are released. But that is only a suspicion.
It would be a supreme irony if the job action were to show that we have too many arrests and too many cops. I just hope someone is out there looking for the data, and that research groups are sufficiently independent to look for it.