Magazine article Chicago Policy Review (Online)

Can Neighborhood-Level Legal Aid Improve Police-Community Relations?

Magazine article Chicago Policy Review (Online)

Can Neighborhood-Level Legal Aid Improve Police-Community Relations?

Article excerpt

During the 1960s, the Johnson administration sought to address civil disorder and calm race riots as part of its War on Poverty. In pursuit of that goal, it established the Neighborhood Legal Services Program (NLSP), which funded local legal agencies through federal grants. By providing community-based legal aid in areas normally not served by existing law firms, policymakers believed that they could lift people out of poverty. They also believed that the program would reduce the propensity to violence. After all, some criminal activity was in response to perceived illegal police action or police brutality, and the NLSP offered alternative avenues to rioting for those seeking justice.

In a recent study, Jamein P. Cunningham and Rob Gillezeau found that funding for NLSPs indeed decreased the number and severity of riots. They further showed that funding for NLSPs also increased African-American wealth. Because wealth is commonly accumulated through property ownership, rioting severely decreased the property values of black-owned homes in riot areas. As a result, decreased rioting led to increased wealth.

Using data from the National Archives Community Action Program in 1964-1971, Cunningham and Gillezeau separated cities into a control group (those that did not receive NLSP grants) and a treatment group (those that did receive grants). First, the authors looked at the control group and compared rioting at the beginning of their timeline to that at the end. Then, by comparing that difference to the difference for the treatment group, they were able to estimate the impact of NLSP grants. They used the same process to measure effects on the property values of black-owned homes.

The authors recognized that because the NLSP was established as an anti-rioting program, more funding may have been directed toward cities with higher propensities for riot outbreaks. This would confound any causal interpretation of the results because it would mean the treatment and control groups were not comparable. To address this issue, Cunningham and Gillezeau used an instrumental variable associated with changes in riot activity only through its association with NLSP funding: the age of the closest law school. NLSP firms were meant to be paired with nearby law schools, so there was a clear association between the instrumental and explanatory variables. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.