Do police reduce crime? Estimates using the allocation of police forces after a terrorist attack

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An important challenge in the crime literature is to isolate causal effects of police on crime. Following a terrorist attack on the main Jewish center in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in July 1994, all Jewish institutions (including schools, synagogues, and clubs) were given 24-hour police protection. Thus, this hideous event induced a geographical allocation of police forces that can be presumed to be exogenous in a crime regression. Using data on the location of car thefts before and after the terrorist attack, we find a large deterrent effect of observable police presence on crime. The effect is local, with little or no appreciable impact outside the narrow area in which the police are deployed.

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