Fewer Horses, More Crime?

In the 1990s, economists were always in search of such a  natural experiment.   ““It seems like horses are always among the first to go when it comes to budget cuts,” said Mitchel P. Roth, a professor of criminology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Tex., who has studied mounted patrols over the centuries.”    Such sharp regime shifts have allowed empiricists to test hypotheses using a “before/after” comparison.  Some young scholar will be able to use these budget cuts to write a definitive paper on the role of horses in keeping cities safe.

Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

4 thoughts on “Fewer Horses, More Crime?”

  1. I expect that a properly structured study will discover that regime change always has a significant potential to improve performance, regardless of decor choices. Introducing the horses improves performance; retiring the horses improves performance. Introducing bicycle patrols improves performance; discontinuing bicycle patrols in favor of beat cops or patrol cars or, yes, horses, improves performance.

    No particular rule of organization is optimal, and, for any organization engaged in a strategic competition, any stasis is bound to give way to entropy, and a loss of resilience to the adaptations of competitors (in this case, the relatively savvy criminal element). The better schemes will engage in progressive adaptation, but, failing that, even arbitrary instigation of re-organization and an exchange of means, is likely to prove superior to losing the arms race.

  2. It’d be a poor natural experiment; in fact, this his exactly what ‘natural experiments’ are supposed to avoid (not that that will deter some economists…).

    It’s pretty clear that discontinuation of mounted patrols would be very strongly associated with other factors (percentage of budget cuts, status of horse patrols, cronyism, geography of the city, weather, etc.).

  3. If I were a young economist focusing on this kind of thing, I might look not at crimes but at civil disorder and protests. Horses have historically been pretty good at crowd control and/or kicking protestors in the head. Absent those means, has control of civil (both meanings) disorder lessened, or have police departments moved to other means, such as tasers?

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