Crime and (a Preference for) Punishment: The Effects of Drug Policy Reform on Policing Activity

Abstract: We still know very little about the incentives of police. Using geocoded crime data and a novel source of within-city variation in punishment severity, I am able to shed light on enforcement behavior. I find that in parts of a city where drug penalties were weakened, there is a 13% decrease in drug arrests within a year; there is no displacement of non-drug offenses and majority black neighborhoods have a larger decline in drug arrests. If offenders were significantly deterred by harsher penalties, as the law intended and Becker’s (1968) model predicts, there should have been an increase in drug arrests. My results are therefore consistent with police treating enforcement effort and punishment severity as complementary. I also find that citywide crime and drug use do not increase following the weakening of drug penalties; this calls into question the “War on Drugs” view of punishment and suggests that certain types enforcement can be reduced without incurring large public safety costs.

Prescriptive Drought Policy and Water Supplier Compliance

Under Review, 2021

Abstract: In the case of publicly provided water, governments often cannot use prices to induce conservation, and the need to understand the impacts of alternate methods is growing due to increased variability in water resources. During the 2012-2016 drought in California, a period that may presage the future of water management in a warmer climate, the state attempted to manage water use through a set of mandatory restrictions that assigned each of California’s 412 largest urban water suppliers to one of nine conservation tiers; those with greater historic usage needed to conserve more. I find that even though significant statewide savings occurred, only half of suppliers complied with their conservation mandate. Moreover, the increased savings were not caused by the tiered design of the mandate: suppliers that just missed a stricter conservation tier actually conserved more. Additionally, water use rebounded after the regulation was removed, implying that variable adjustments in demand contributed more to water use savings than fixed cost household investments. Given the significant costs of water regulation and the high probability of future droughts, the policy implication is that both governments and water suppliers may benefit from less complex prescriptive policies or investments in water supply reliability.

Rebel Funding Strategies: Illicit Activities, Natural Resources, and Substitution Behavior

Working Paper, 2020

Abstract: Rebel groups often exploit natural resources in order to finance their operations, yet we still know little about their basic funding decisions. Given the prevalence of asymmetric warfare, I examine how rebel groups choose between funding strategies using a unique panel dataset on the activities of 297 groups. I find that when the world price of a natural resource they exploit rises, rebel groups substitute away from extortion, smuggling, kidnapping, and theft. These results suggest that policies attempting to shut down these groups by cutting their main sources of funding may produce harmful unintended consequences in the short run.

Work in Progress

Community-Level Trauma (with Steve Billings and Kevin Schnepel)

Criminal Capital Formation

Education and Crime (with Jason Baron)

Language in News Media (with Bocar Ba, Pat Bayer, Jonathan Moreno-Medina, and Aurelie Ouss)

Prosecutorial Discretion

Master’s Thesis

To What Water Price Do Consumers Respond? A Study of Increasing Block Rates and Mandatory Water Restrictions, Michigan State University, May 2016

Policy Work

Reducing the Costs of Drought: Lessons from Australia, Public Policy Institute of California, September 2015

What if California’s Drought Continues, Public Policy Institute of California, August 2015

The ‘Inexact Science’ of Water Pricing, Public Policy Institute of California, July 2015