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Equal protection versus efficient security against crime: Differences and unintended consequences

Hans-Bernd Schäfer and Ram Singh

Police services are cited by economists as an example of a standard public good that should be supplied by the state to prevent market failure on account of the free-rider problem. However, from a historical perspective, the public police is a relatively new phenomenon. Even today in many countries the number of private security workers is larger than the number of public police officials. In this paper, we argue that the public police often do not aim to correct market failure, nor they tend to mimic a well-functioning market for security by reducing losses from crime to an efficient level.. On the contrary, the policy goal of fighting against crimes - especially against violent ones- has moved towards ensuring equal security for all residents. This aim has gained influence from writings of constitutional law scholars, who argue that the right to equal security against crimes derives from equal constitutional rights. It has also gained acceptance as a practical police strategy.

We provide a model to examine legal and economic implications of the right to equal security against crimes. We show that ‘equal security for all’ approach toward policing is inconsistent with several other equally plausible legal objectives. It reduces efficiency as well as effectiveness of the crime fighting efforts. We show that even without discriminatory intent, the equal security-oriented policing leads to crime clearance und punishment rates that are different across police districts and also across communities. In particular, under highly plausible and realistic conditions, the equal security can result in statistical discrimination against minorities or immigrants in terms of crime punishment rates. Moreover, the adverse effects of the equal
security approach – in terms of the effectiveness of policing and discrimination - are worse than the efficient security.

Please see the full paper here.