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Does Targeting Minor Offenses Reduce Serious Crime?: A Provisional, Affirmative Answer Based on an Analysis of County-Level Data

NCJ Number
Police Quarterly Volume: 9 Issue: 1 Dated: March 2006 Pages: 47-72
John L. Worrall
Date Published
March 2006
26 pages
This study examined whether arresting offenders for minor crimes could reduce the serious crime rate.
The results indicated that arresting offenders for the crimes of disorderly conduct, disturbing the peace, and public drunkenness could reduce the rates of certain crimes, most notably felonious assault and burglary. The decline in felonious assaults was noted immediately whereas the decline in burglaries was observed after a slight delay. Rates of larceny were unaffected by increased arrests for minor crimes. Overall, the findings lend support for law enforcement programs that target vigorous enforcement of minor offenses as a strategy to reduce serious crime rates. Official data from all 58 counties in California were for the time period 1989 through 2000, including data from the Criminal Justice Statistics Center of the California Department of Justice, the State Controller’s Office, and the California Department of Finance. Serious crimes under analysis included the assault rate, burglary rate, and larceny rate while minor offenses under analysis were disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and public drunkenness. Deterrence, economy, and demographic variables were included as controls. Data were analyzed using a series of two-way fixed-effects regression models. Future research is urged to consider the possible negative consequences of the “broken windows” law enforcement strategy in which minor crimes are heavily policed. Tables, notes, references