The Consequences of Restricting Police Arrest Authority: Less Deterrence and More Crime
Police officers’ authority to arrest permits them to impose certain, swift, and severe punishment on offenders. Being placed in jail and losing one’s freedom for a crime meets all three criteria for effective deterrence. Consequently, if police officers lose the authority to arrest for certain crimes, deterrence theory states that the commission of those crimes would likely increase because the swiftness, certainty, and severity of punishment for those crimes would decrease (Beccaria, 1764; Wilson, 2013; Wilson and Herrnstein, 1985).
Recent research emphasizes the significant impact that certainty, swiftness, and severity of punishment can have on deterring crime. In 2009, Hawken and Kleiman evaluated the effectiveness of HOPE (Hawaii Opportunity Probation with Enforcement), a community supervision program for substance-abusing probationers. The HOPE program operates on the premise that offenders tend to be reckless and impulsive. Therefore, they are not deterred by low-probability threats of severe punishment. Rather, the HOPE program assumes that swift, high-probability punishments are more likely to deter probation violations and future crime.
In other words, the HOPE program imposed certain, swift, and severe punishment to deter probation violations and future crimes.
Hamilton et al. (2016) conducted a quasi-experiment for a similar program implemented in Washington State. Like Hawken and Kleiman (2009), they found that the use of certain, swift, and severe punishments for probationers helped deter probation violations.
[N.b. The author misstates the premise and findings of the Hawaii and Washington studies (among others), in which the sanctions were not severe.]