Making a Police Officer: Police Quality after the Spoils System in the Urban U.S.

Rowena Gray, University of California Merced
Raymond Kim, University of California Merced

This paper presents new data on the careers of men who became police officers in urban police forces across medium and large cities in the United States between 1880 and 1940. This data is drawn from the rosters of annual police reports and individuals are then matched forwards and backwards to their decennial Census records, where available. In this paper we firstly create a measure of turnover among police amid changing political regimes (changes in the mayor's office) and assess whether turnover decreased with the advent of merit systems. We then document the extent to which those police forces were representative of the populations that they served. Finally, we explore how the background and quality of police officers changed with the introduction of civil service hiring systems across cities and years and we will also test whether this translated into improved or more efficient public service provision. We use information about their previous occupations and those of their fathers to inform this question. This research informs policy design, especially for developing countries today, in how to develop appropriate and effective public jobs hiring systems and ways to provide public goods.

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 Presented in Session 232. Policing, Quotas and Slavery: Institutions and Discrimination