Police shootings offer economic insights | Ed Lotterman

Not every issue is an economic one, but there are economic elements to most issues, including police shootings. This is a deep societal question right now in the Twin Cities that involves political, sociological and psychological issues rather than economics per se. But a few economic insights may be helpful.

The base of all economics is the idea of “opportunity cost.” This is the value of what you give up when you choose one alternative over another. If you eat hamburgers, you cannot be a vegetarian. If you work as a police officer, you cannot earn the income of an investment banker. Become a futures trader, and you might forego the satisfaction a social worker gets from serving others. Pass on joining the Peace Corps, and you might give up an opportunity to live among another culture, but perhaps also the risk of getting hepatitis.

When it comes to police shootings, there are increasing opportunity costs at the institutional and individual levels.

Institutionally, make rules too stringent on drawing and firing service weapons and more police may be killed by criminals who fire first. Prosecute more police shootings, and more crime may occur because perpetrators know that they will have time to get away or get their weapons out in case the police arrive.

At the other end of the spectrum, if the consequences for use of police weapons are too lax, innocent people may be killed by nervous or vindictive officers. If one officer among several thinks they see something in someone’s hand that might be a gun, everyone must shoot. All other officers on scene are supposed to join in and keep firing until there is no possible threat. A backfiring car can lead to a summary execution with nearly 150 bullets fired into two innocent men, as happened a few years ago in Ohio.

Few police are killed in the line of duty, but just one in…

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