Inequality in the Provision of Police Services: Evidence from Residential Burglary Investigations

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When crime victims call the police for help, what type of response do they receive? While scholars have extensively documented racial inequalities in the police’s punitive functions, this paper considers the police as service providers. It leverages uniquely granular data on over 2,500 residential burglary investigations in Tucson, Arizona, to consider the predictors of investigative thoroughness. Contrary to conventional wisdom about police behavior, the demographics of victims or officers do not consistently predict investigative thoroughness. Instead, the most important predictor of investigative thoroughness is whether the burglary involved a forced entry into the residence, since forced-entry cases feature more evidence and thus provide greater likelihood of case clearance. However, the probability of forced entry differs significantly by neighborhood, which means that the seemingly neutral decision to maximize clearance rates has unequal consequences.

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