Law enforcement officials in low-crime jurisdictions have it easy. With little crime happening, it’s easy to monitor things and easy to punish wrongdoers. And with potential criminals knowing that crime is likely to be punished, there’s little crime. But in high-crime jurisdictions, it’s another thing entirely. When lots of serious crimes are happening, your ability to punish crimes of moderate severity gets very low, and the chances of being punished for even serious crimes is only middling. That encourages people to commit crimes. Which makes it even harder to enforce the law. Mark Kleiman’s idea of dynamic-concentration is a way around the problem.
The Economist observes that this can even work for parents:
Three weeks ago I read a post by our own Free Exchange referring to a recommendation Mr Kleiman made in his book, “When Brute Force Fails”, that police could combat gangs more effectively if they publicised a prioritised list of which gangs they were cracking down on most heavily. This would lead Public Enemy #1 Gang to give up in the face of reduced competitiveness. At that point Public Enemy #2 Gang becomes the highest-priority, and thus least-competitive, gang, and they give up too. And so on down the line, gradually reducing the number of gangs the police have to cope with. In my case, my kids were waking up early on school-day mornings and sneaking downstairs to watch TV. Under Mr Kleiman’s influence, I tried a new tactic: I announced that if both were found watching TV, only my daughter, the oldest, would be punished, because she was responsible. If only my son broke the rule, he would be the only one punished. Both kids are far more afraid of being punished disproportionately than of being punished equally. The school-day morning TV-watching has stopped.
The causal mechanism here actually strikes me as different, but either way it’s good to see that reading about public policy has practical applications.