Bocar Ba, University of California Irvine

Going the Extra Mile: the Cost of Complaint Filing, Accountability, and Law Enforcement Outcomes in Chicago

Abstract: While much of the economic literature has centered on the impact of policing on crime, there is little empirical evidence evaluating the effect of oversight on police misconduct and use of force. I use novel data from the Chicago Police Department and a policy change that generates exogenous variation in the cost of filing a complaint. I find that civilians facing higher travel costs are less likely to complete the complaint filing process and more likely to experience police use of force. These effects are larger for residents of non-white areas. I estimate civilians’ complaint valuation and construct counterfactual scenarios. I find that the individuals who benefit most from oversight are those with the lowest valuation of their complaints. Simulated counterfactual scenarios show that reducing the cost of filing a complaint increases the number of completed complaints, and thus the number of investigations. Under a policy that reduces the cost of complaining, the number of sustained complaints about failure to provide service increases by 8.1%; the rate of sustained allegations of police brutality, however, falls by 9.8%. Complainants who would benefit the most from this policy are the ones seeking help from the police, and who live in the most violent neighborhood of the city. This research sheds light on the complex relationship between public safety and the cost of reporting police misconduct.

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