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Do Consumer Complaints Reduce Policing? Evidence from the Cincinnati Police Department after the April 2001 Riot

Using the April 2001 Cincinnati riot as a natural experiment, this paper examines police officers' response to a sudden change in their evaluation mechanism, i.e., the sharply increased media attention and the ensuing federal investigation. This heightened police officers' fear of being accused of "racial profiling". I find that during the remaining months of 2001, (i) arrests for crimes and citations for traffic violations decreased substantially, (ii) the decrease was more significant for offenses where police officers had more discretion, and (iii) the decrease in misdemeanor arrests was greater in communities with a higher percentage of African Americans. Monthly felonies (violent crimes and property crimes) surged during the same period. This evidence suggests that police officers responded through less aggressive policing when the evaluation mechanism tilted toward "consumer complaints", lending support to predictions of Prendergast (2003).