“Police Violence and Policy Windows: How Information Affects Public Opinion about Reforms and Funding for Law Enforcement.”

Co-authors: Cheryl Boudreau & Scott A. MacKenzie

Status: Data collected – accepted for presentation at MPSA 2020

Abstract: Citizens, police, and public officials share an interest in adopting policies to reduce police violence. Incidents of police violence can make policy change likely by raising citizens’ awareness and increasing officials’ interest in solutions. Inaction in the wake of incidents of police violence, however, raises questions about their role as “focusing events” in models of policy formation. We study reactions to police violence by randomly assigning information about the Stephon Clark shooting. Citizens read a description of the shooting and are then assigned to receive 1) information about a pattern of police violence, 2) reforms undertaken to reduce police violence, or 3) no information. We assess the effects of information on who citizens believe should prevent police violence and their support for policies affecting the police. We show that information about a pattern of violence increases support for policy reforms and reduces support for greater police funding. Information about reforms undertaken reduces support for further reforms while leaving support for funding unchanged. These results imply that police violence can motivate policy change, but this depends on the information citizens receive and which citizens receive it.

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