Date of Award

May 2021

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Committee Member

Michael D. Makowsky

Committee Member

Paul W. Wilson

Committee Member

F. Andrew Hanssen

Committee Member

Yichen Zhou


Law enforcement incentives have become a relevant discussion topic in recent years. Starting with sheriff offices, elections may introduce different incentives for sheriffs, impacting arrest rates and other behaviors around election periods. My first chapter examines the impact of both the primary and general elections on arrest rates in sheriff jurisdictions. Results show that offices led by a sheriff running for re-election see a decrease of 0:19 arrests per 1,000 capita following a loss in the primary. Offices with incumbents who win the primary but proceed to lose the general show 0:62 fewer arrests per 1,000 capita in the month following the general election. Further results indicate the decline following the loss in the general election stems mostly from drug arrests. These results suggest the electoral structure influences sheriff behavior, negatively impacting sheriff productivity, indicating substantial costs to elections, and possibly indicating different incentives across sheriffs during the election season.

Revenue generated through the criminal justice system has also been shown to cause a change in the incentive structure of law enforcement agencies. I show evidence of this first in my second chapter through a second-stage estimation of the effect of civil asset forfeiture laws on estimated law enforcement technical efficiency scores. Agencies allowed to retain proceeds from asset seizure have an incentive to generate revenue. I estimate how counties utilize police personnel and expenditures to maximize crime deterrence and incident clearances. Technical efficiency estimates are computed at the county level from 2007 and 2012 data using the variable returns to scale data envelopment analysis estimator. To reduce estimation error and to allow for faster convergence, I use dimension reduction to estimate the Farrell output measure of police efficiency for county-level data. After testing for separability, results of a second-stage truncated regression show that the higher the allowed percentage of retained assets for a county, the more inefficient the county is at making arrests and deterring crime.

I conclude in my third chapter by discussing the growing law enforcement revenue generation incentive and how law enforcement revenues have become a key component of local government budgets across the United States. While numerous restrictions exist to constrain traditional sources of revenue, only recently have legislators introduced checks on the fiscal profitability of fines, fees, forfeitures, and asset seizures. Left unrestricted, fiscal incentives have demonstrably manifested in the enforcement patterns and discretionary decisions of police. The transformation of officers into agents of revenue creation leads to increased targeting of minority populations and out-of-towners, with emphasis on arrests that yield potential property seizure, with negative consequences for both community trust and the provision of public safety. Those burdened with legal financial obligations are disproportionately poor, positioning the criminal justice system as a pointedly regressive form of taxation. We discuss the mechanisms behind criminal justice revenue generation, the consequences to law enforcement outcomes, and policies designed to reform and mitigate revenue-driven law enforcement.



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