SAGE Journal Articles

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Reiss, Julian. Causation in the Social Sciences. Philosophy of the Social Sciences 39(1): 20-40.

All univocal analyses of causation face counterexamples. An attractive response to this situation is to become a pluralist about causal relationships. “Causal pluralism” is itself, however, a pluralistic notion. In this article, I argue in favor of pluralism about concepts of cause in the social sciences. The article will show that evidence for, inference from, and the purpose of causal claims are very closely linked.

Weisburd, David. Randomized Experiments in Criminal Justice Policy: Prospects and Problems. Crime & Delinquency 46(2): 181-193.

In theory, experimental designs provide the most reliable method to establish a relationship between interventions and outcomes. However, in practice, randomized experiments have remained a much less common choice for criminal justice evaluators than have nonexperimental methods. This article focuses on factors that have traditionally inhibited the use of randomized experiments as a tool for developing criminal justice policy. In this context, the main ethical, political, and practical barriers that face experimenters are described. General principles for identifying circumstances less or more amenable for developing randomized experiments are also defined. In concluding, it is argued that experiments are possible in many circumstances and can provide a powerful tool for developing criminal justice policy.

Taylor, Bruce, Christopher Koper, and Daniel Woods. Combating Vehicle Theft in Arizona: A Randomized Experiment with License Plate Recognition Technology. Criminal Justice Review 37(1): 24-50.

This article focuses on a relatively new innovation for use by law enforcement, license plate recognition (LPR) systems, in fighting auto theft. While it is a promising technology, there has not been much research on the effectiveness of LPR systems. The authors conducted a randomized experiment to study the effects of LPR devices on auto theft. The authors found that the LPR is achieving its most basic purpose of increasing the number of plates scanned by officers (8 times greater) compared to manual plate checking. Further, when compared to manual checking, the LPR was associated with more “hits” (i.e., positive scans) for auto theft and stolen plates, more arrests for stolen vehicles, and more stolen vehicle recoveries. Unexpectedly, the authors found that manual plate checking by a special auto theft unit (but not LPR scanning by the same unit) was associated with less auto theft 2 weeks after the intervention (based on both police crime reports and calls for police service) than the control group (regular nonspecialized patrol without LPR). Finally, the authors found no evidence of crime displacement occurring from their targeted routes to adjacent areas for any of their models. This study provides evidence that LPR use can achieve demonstrable benefits in combating auto theft (i.e., more plates scanned, “hits,” arrests and recoveries with LPR). These results are impressive for the field of auto theft where so little research tested interventions exist. Future work will involve developing strategies that maintains the documented benefits of LPR use by a specialized unit, but also achieve the benefits associated with manual checking by a specialized unit.