Murder, Capital Punishment, and Deterrence: A Review of the Evidence
and an Examination of Police Killings

William C. Bailey Cleveland State University

Ruth D. Peterson Ohio State University

Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to William
C. Bailey, Graduate College, Cleveland State University, Cleveland, OH

This paper reviews and assesses the empirical literature on murder,
capital punishment, and deterrence. There is a large body of evidence
regarding these issues, with studies yielding a rather consistent
pattern of nondeterrence. However, most investigations are limited
because they rely upon the general homicide rate as the criterion
variable, although both legally and theoretically, different types of
murder may be differentially subject to deterrence. As an example of
how deterrence investigations may benefit from examining different
types of homicide, we conduct a monthly time-series analysis of the
possible deterrent effect of the provision for capital punishment,
levels of execution, and the amount and type of television news
coverage executions receive on overall and different types of police
killings for 1976-1989. The analysis reveals no evidence that police
are aforded an added measure of protection against death by capital

Academics and others have long debated whether capital punishment is
effective in deterring murder. In this analysis we (1) assess the
state of knowledge regarding murder, capital punishment and
deterrence; (2) explicate the need to consider different types of
homicide in examining the deterrence question; and (3) examine the
possible deterrent effect of capital punishment on lethal assaults
against police.

Deterrence Theory and Capital Punishment

Deterrence theory rests upon the premise that individuals weigh the
costs and rewards associated with alternative actions, and choose
behaviors that yield the greatest gain at the least cost. Thus, crime
occurs when illegal actions are perceived either as more profitable
(rewarding) or less costly (painful) than conventional alternatives.
In this context, the purpose of criminal sanctions is to prevent
crime. Crime prevention is achieved through providing a system of
sanctions that (1) convinces would-be criminals that crime does not
pay (general deterrence) and (2) prevents recidivism by teaching a
direct lesson to those who were not deterred (special deterrence). To
achieve maximum deterrence, sanctions must be severe enough to
outweigh the benefits derived from crime, administered with certainty,
administered promptly, and made known to would-be offenders. However,
the hypothesized negative effects of these dimensions of punishment on
crime are contingent rather than additive. For example, regardless of
their degree of severity, sanctions cannot deter if their level of
certainty is zero or near zero. 

Deterrence theorists view murder as rational behavior, and assume that
in calculating the gains and losses from killing, potential offenders
are aware of the death penalty and regard it as a more severe sanction
than imprisonment. Because the threat of one's own death presumably
outweighs the rewards gained from killing another, murder is
discouraged. In addition, some noted proponents contend that capital
punishment provides an important educative function in society by
validating the sanctity of human life (Berns, 1979; van den Haag,
1975; van den Haag & Conrad, 1983).

Despite this logic, some challenge the applicability of deterrence to
murder. Rather than being a product of deliberation and calculation,
it is contended that most murders are emotionally charged and
spontaneous events; they are "acts of passion" or result from a
situated transaction rather than from deliberation (Bowers & Pierce,
1980; Chambliss, 1967; Luckenbill, 1977). Indeed, a significant
proportion of homicides may not be intended. The situation simply gets
out of hand, or due to some extraneous factor, the assault victim
dies. Under such conditions, it is unlikely that offenders ("killers")
give serious thought to whether they reside in a death penalty
jurisdiction, or the possibility of execution.

Some critics also question whether the message conveyed by executions
underscores the sanctity of life. Proponents of what has become known
as the brutalization thesis contend that the message communicated by
executions is lethal vengeance and a disrespect for human life.

"Executions demonstrate that it is corTect and appropriate to kill
those who have gravely offended us. The fact that such killings are to
be performed only by duly appointed officials on duly convicted
offenders is a detail that may get obscured by the message that such
offenders deserve to die." (Bowers & Pierce, 1980, p. 456)

Indeed, some of the most important founders of the general deterrence
doctrine were opposed to the death penalty because they were convinced
that capital punishment (unlike other types of sanctions) communicates
that it is proper to kill those who have wronged us, and in so doing,
puts the lives of citizens at greater risk (Beccaria, 1764/ 1963;
Bentham, 1843/ 1962).

The Empirical Research

Despite considerable research, the deterrence/brutalization issue has
not been resolved. Studies can be divided into three general
categories based upon chronology, methodology, and substantive

Early Comparative Studies

Early observers drew nondeterrence conclusions about capital
punishment based upon rather casual comparisons of the frequency (not
rates) of homicides before and after executions, and for death penalty
and abolitionist jurisdictions. These "studies" were simply too crude
to yield meaningful results. This realization prompted a series of
investigations in the U.S. spanning the early 1900s through the mid-
1960s that compared (1) homicide rates for contiguous or otherwise
matched death penalty and nondeath penalty states (Savitz, 1958;
Schuessler, 1952; Sellin, 1967; Sutherland, 1925), and (2) homicide
rates for states before and after the abolition and/or reinstatement
of the death penalty (Bedau, 1967; Schuessler, 1952; Sellin, 1955,
1959, 1967). Contiguous state and before/after analyses provided the
advantage of controlling for important nonpunishment factors that
influence homicide rates. 

These analyses did not provide support for the deterrence argument.
Rather, murder rates were often found to be higher in death penalty
jurisdictions, and abolition and/or reintroduction of capital
punishment was sometimes followed by an increase in murders and
sometimes not. Based on this evidence, most criminologists came to
agree with Sellin's (1967, p. 138) conclusion that "the presence of
the death penalty in law and practice has no discernible effect as a
deterrent to murder."

Ehrlich's Work and Econometric Modeling

This conclusion was challenged in the mid-1970s by Isaac Ehrlich
(1975). He dismissed previous death penalty studies as inadequate due
to their failure (I) to treat the certainty of capital punishment as
an important deterrence variable, and (2) to consider as formal
control variables other factors that influence homicides. To address
these problems, Ehrlich examined annual execution and homicide data
for 1933-1969 while statistically controlling for the influence of
various sociodemographic and law enforcement variables. He found a
significant inverse relationship between execution and homicide rates.
This led him to conclude that the death penalty has a substantial
deterrent effect. Indeed, Ehrlich reported that on average during the
period each execution was associated with seven to eight fewer

The immediate response to Ehrlich's study was a series of replications
of his national time-series analysis (Bowers & Pierce, 1975; Passell &
Taylor, 1975; Yunker, 1976). These efforts did not substantiate his
findings. Rather, they pointed to a number of theoretical and
methodological concerns about Ehrlich's analysis. For example, when
the last few years of the 1933-1969 time series were removed from the
analysis, evidence of possible deterrence disappeared. 

Others applied Ehrlich-type models in time-series investigations
(Bailey 1978, 1979a, 1979b, 1979c, 1979d, 1979-80; Decker & Kohfeld,
1990) or cross-sectional analyses of state execution and murder rates
(Bailey, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1980a, 1980b, 1983, 1984a, 1984b; Black &
Orsagh, 1978; Ehrlich, 1977; Forst, 1977; Passell, 1975; Peterson &
Bailey, 1988). With few exceptions (Ehrlich, 1977; Layson, 1985),
these efforts also failed to substantiate Ehrlich's findings.
Moreover, some studies indicated that the death penalty actually may
contribute to homicides (Bowers, 1984, 1988; Bowers & Pierce, 1980).

Studies of Execution Publicity

The above noted analyses were impressive, but they ignored the
possible deterrent effect of the publicity surrounding executions. As
Gibbs (1975) notes, deterrence is a communication theory. Regardless
of their severity and certainty, criminal sanctions can influence
perceptions, and accordingly the behavior of potential offenders, only
if they are made public. Prior to 1978, this issue had been addressed
in just two investigations. Dann (1935) examined the number of
possible capital homicides (killings that appeared to involve
premeditation, and those involving the commission of another crime)
for the 60-day period before and after five highly publicized
executions in Philadelphia in 1927, 1929, 1930, 1931, and 1932. He
found an increase, not a decline, in killings following each
execution. A follow-up analysis by Savitz (1958) of definite and
possible capital homicides in Philadelphia before and after four
highly publicized death sentences (not executions) in 1944, 1946
(two), and 1947 also produced no evidence of deterrence. Although
informative, these studies were very limited because they considered
only a single jurisdiction and examined a very small number of

In a more systematic publicity analysis, King (1978) examined the
impact of newspaper coverage of executions on monthly homicides in
South Carolina for the period 1951- 1962. He found that "there were
almost as many [execution] story months accompanied by fewer homicides
than expected (8 months) as there were story months accompanied by
more homicides than expected (11 months)" (1978, p. 685). Also,
Phillips (1980) examined weekly homicide counts in London, England,
before and after 22 highly publicized executions between 1858 and
1921. He found that the number of homicides declined by approximately
35% during the two weeks following the executions. However, Phillips
also observed a significant "rebound" effect. Killings returned to
their baseline levels during the third through the fifth weeks after
executions . Bowers' (1988) analysis confirmed that, at best,
publicized executions had the effect of postponing not deterring
homicides. Indeed, correcting for an important coding error in
Phillips' analysis, Bowers found a significant net increase in
homicides during the six to ten weeks following executions.

Considering possible deterrent and rebound effects, McFarland (1983)
examined national and regional homicide counts for weekly periods
leading up to and succeeding four highly publicized executions that
followed a 10-year moratorium (1967-1976) on capital punishment in the
U.S.: Gary Gilmore (January 1977), John Spinkellink (May 1979), Jesse
Bishop (October 1979), and Steven Judy (March 1981). An interrupted
time-series analysis showed that none of the executions was followed
by a significant decline in killings that could be attributed to

The King (1978), Phillips (1980), and McFarland (1983) studies are
improvements over the earlier analyses by Dann (1935) and Savitz 
(1958),but they too suffer from important limitations . Of note: (I)
they do not measure the actual amount and type of media attention
devoted to executions, and (2) they fail to consider systematically
alternative (history) factors that might have influenced homicides
during the pre- and postperiods examined. More recent studies have
addressed these concerns (Bailey, 1990; Bailey & Peterson, 1987;
Stack, 1987, 1990).

Stack (1987) examined the correspondence between U.S. monthly
homicide rates and levels of print media attention devoted to
executions for the 1950-1980 period. He reported a significant decline
in homicide rates for months with highly publicized executions. Stack
estimates that "16 [highly] publicized executions may have saved as
many as 480 lives" (1987, p. 538). Stack (1990) also reports evidence
of deterrence in a reanalysis of the King (1978) data for South

A replication and extension of the first Stack (1987) analysis by
Bailey and Peterson (1989) showed that Stack's findings were a result
of various shortcomings of his analysis, including (1) the use of a
highly unorthodox measure of the homicide rate (the number of homicide
victims of all ages per 100,000 population of persons 16 years of age
and older); (2) ignoring changes over the period in the volume of
monthly executions, the arrest clearance rate for homicides, and a
variety of sociodemographic factors associated with murder rates; and
(3) coding errors for the execution publicity variables. Merely
correcting the coding errors resulted in a chance association between
the execution publicity and homicide rates for the 1950-1980 period.
This null pattern remained when the other limitations were addressed,
and when the time series was extended from 1940 to 1986.

Bailey (1990) conducted a monthly analysis of the impact of television
new coverage of executions during the 1976-1987 period. He found only
a chanc association between homicide rates and the amount of
television news coverage devoted to executions. He also observed no
consistent evidence of deterrencl when different types of news
coverage were aired, e.g., very graphic vs. matter-of-fact
presentations of persons being put to death.

An Assessment of the Empirical Evidence

Deterrence and capital punishment studies have yielded a fairly
consisten pattern of nondeterrence. Thus, some would conclude that the
capital punish ment and deterrence question has been resolved.
However, in our view, the body of research indicates only that the
overall (general) homicide rate is not respon sive to capital
punishment. It is still possible that some forms of killing may be
deterred by capital punishment, while other types of murder may be
encouragec (brutalization) by the death penalty.

To address this issue, future researchers should consider different
dependem variables. First, it is important to consider types of
homicide that are eligible fo the death penalty. The deterrence
perspective assumes that citizens' perception~ of costs and rewards
are a consequence of the objective gains and losses associ ated with a
given action. Thus, one might expect capital punishment to have a
significant deterrent effect only for death-eligible killings. In the
U.S., these mainly include first-degree murder (intentional killings)
and murders that result from the commission of certain other felonies
(e.g., rape, robbery, arson). It is estimated that intentional
killings constitute about 5%-10% of criminal homicides, and felony
murders account for 20%-25% of all homicides (Peterson & Bailey,
1991). Unfortunately, death penalty investigations have relied upon
published figures that do not distinguish capital from noncapital
homicides. The exceptions are the limited execution publicity studies
(Dann, 1935; Savitz, 1958), which do not provide an adequate basis for
drawing firm conclusions. 

In addition to examining capital homicides, it is important to
investigate how various homicide characteristics and circumstances may
condition the possible effect of capital punishment. For example, the
literature suggests that racial and ethnic minorities are
disproportionately subject to capital punishment. Thi raises the
question of whether African Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities
may be more responsive than whites to the death penalty. Also, some
populations (based on gender, race, ethnicity, income, occupation, and
the like may be afforded more or less protection by capital
punishment. For example, are those in criminal justice occupations
afforded an added measure of protection against death compared to
others? These types of questions have seldom been examined.

Along different lines, it has been suggested that criminal sanctions
are more effective as deterrents for instrumental than expressive
crimes (Chambliss, 1967 Gibbs, 1975; Zimring & Hawkins, 1986). As
described by Chambliss (1967), expressive crimes are shrouded with
emotional involvement and are committed because the acts themselves
are gratifying; instrumental crimes are dictated more by rational
considerations and are committed to attain some other goal. Above we
noted that many homicides are expressive (i.e., acts of passion) but
some are instrumental (e.g., murder for hire). Researchers have not
yet examined whether homicides that fall into these two categories are
more or less subject to deterrence.

More generally, research is needed to determine whether killings
involving various victim-offender relationships and circumstances
(e.g., husbands killing wives, parents killing children, killings
resulting from arguments among friends) are more or less responsive to
capital punishment. Some of these types of murder may not be capital
homicides. Still, they may be discouraged or encouraged by capital
punishment due to characteristics of the parties and circumstances

Until recently, researchers did not have access to homicide data that
were refined enough to determine the capital and noncapital nature of
killings, or the extent to which deterrence depends upon other offense
and victim-offender characteristics. Currently, detailed U.S. homicide
data are available from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that
can be used to form offending and victimization rates for a wide
variety of types of murder. Thus, it is now possible to begin to
address some of the unresolved issues regarding deterrence and capital
punishment. The analysis to follow is a step in this direction. We
examine the impact of capital punishment on police killings which are
death-eligible homicides in all U.S. retentionist jurisdictions. It
has been proposed that police gain an added measure of protection
against murder because the death penalty deters persons from carrying
lethal weapons and using them against the police when they are in
danger of arrest (van den Haag & Conrad, 1983). Further, some insist
that the death penalty is the only sanction that can restrain suspects
in danger of being arrested for a crime that could lead to life
imprisonment. For example, van den Haag (van den Haag & Conrad, 1983,
p. 234) notes,

"Without the death penalty an offender having committed a crime that
leads to imprisonment for life has nothing to lose if he murders the
arresting officer. By murdering the officer . . . such criminals
increase their chances of escape, without increasing the severity of
the punishment they will suffer if caught."

Capital Punishment and Police Killings

Previous Research

Several investigations have considered whether capital punishment
affords police an added measure of protection (Bailey, 1982; Bailey &
Peterson, 1987; Sellin, 1955). Sellin (1955) reasoned that if the
death penalty deters lethal assaults against officers, then Police
killings should be lower in retentionist jurisdictions. Based on a
survey of police departments in U.S. cities with a population of at
least 10,000 (in 1950) in 17 death penalty and six abolitionist
jurisdictions, he examined annual police killing rates per 100,000
population for the period 1919-1954. Sellin found that the average
police homicide rate for cities in death penalty (1.3) and
abolitionist (1.2) states was virtually identical. 

Although the length of the time period (1919-1954) and the number of
jurisdictions (265) examined are impressive, Sellin used a very
unorthodox measure of the rate of police killings: the total number of
police homicides per 10,000 general, not police, population.
Correcting for this problem, Bailey (1982) examined annual police
homicide rates for abolitionist and death penalty states (1961-1971)
computed on the basis of the number of police killings per 1000 police
officers. He found that average rates were not significantly different
for the two types of jurisdictions for any year. 

Bailey (1982) also examined the relationship between the certainty of
execution for murder and police killings. For each year (1961-1967),
police homicide rates were regressed against the ratio of total
executions to total criminal homicides, a dummy variable
differentiating death penalty from abolitionist states, and four
control variables-the percents urban, black population, and poverty,
and the unemployment rate. Bailey did not find that policing is less
hazardous in death penalty states, or that the level of execution is
associated with police killings. An extension of this analysis for the
1973-1984 period also produced chance-only associations between
state-level police killing rates and the provision for and certainty
of capital punishment (Bailey & Peterson, 1987). 

In sum, several investigations have examined the deterrence argument
for police killings, but none has found that rates are associated with
capital punishment. However, the studies have not provided a proper
test of the certainty argument. This issue was not considered by
Sellin (1955). And in Bailey (1982) and Bailey and Peterson (1987) the
certainty of capital punishment was measured as the ratio of total
executions (or death sentences) to the total number of homicides,
rather than the ratio of the number of executions for police killings
to the number of police homicides. Also, none of the police killings
studies has considered the publicity hypothesis. This is an important
omission since deterrence theory rests on the assumption that to
discourage crime, sanctions must be communicated. 

The dependent variables considered in the above analyses are also
problematic. First, Sellin used the size of the general rather than
the police population as the denominator in computing police killing
rates. Second, the investigations use the total number of police
killings as a numerator in constructing rates. However, all types of
police killings may not be equally subject to deterrence. For example,
it is possible that on-duty police but not off-duty police are
afforded an added measure of protection by capital punishment.
Off-duty police killings often take place in situations where an
aDparent civilian is being robbed or a home is being burglarized.
Similarly, it is possible that general jurisdiction officers (e.g.,
city police, county sheriffs, and state patrol) gain a measure of
protection from capital punishment, but specialized officers (e.g.,
fish and game protectors, customs agents, immigration and
naturalization authorities, public housing and transit security) do
not. Finally, previous analyses have relied upon annual data to
construct execution, police killing, and control variables. However,
if the deterrent effect of capital punishment is short-lived or very
slight, this effect may not be evident when the data are aggregated on
an annual basis.

The Present Investigation

In this investigation we address each of these limitations.
Considering the 1976-1989 period, we conduct a national monthly
time-series analysis of the relationship between rates of overall and
different types of police killing, and (1) the levels of execution for
all murder, as well as executions for police killings, and (2) the
amount and type of media attention devoted to executions.

The time period. The analysis spans the 168-month period from January
1976 through December 1989. Required television execution publicity
data are available from the Vanderbilt Television News Archives from
1968 through the early months of 1993. (There were no executions in
the U.S. from 1968 through 1976.) However, at the time of this
analysis, appropriate police homicide figures were available only
through 1989.

Police killings: The dependent variable. During the 1976-1989 period,
1204 law enforcement officers were killed feloniously. Based on these
data, we employ five measures of the rate of police killings. Our most
general measure is the monthly rate of police homicides per 100,000
law enforcement personnel. To examine whether various types of police
homicide are differentially subject to deterrence, we also compute
monthly rates for killings of (1) on-duty and (2) offduty police, and
killings of (3) general jurisdiction police vs. (4) special police.

Required police homicide data are drawn from the annual FBI
publication, Police Officers Killed and Assaulted for the
1987-1989 period. Police employee data are taken from annual Bureau of
Census publications. Linear interpolation is used to estimate monthly
police employee figures. In calculating rates of police killing, we
use as a denominator the total number of U.S. federal, state, and
local law enforcement employees, rather than the number of sworn law
enforcement personnel. This is because figures on sworn police
personnel are only available from the Bureau of the Census for
1987-1989. Using the more inclusive police employee data means that
our rates understate the actual levels of police homicide because the
number of sworn officers is smaller than the number of total police

This method of computing rates is justifiable if there was not a major
shift over the 1976-1989 period in the ratio of total to sworn police
personnel. Unfortunately, data on the number of sworn personnel are
not available to test this question at the national level for
1976-1986. However, at the state and local levels, data for the total
number of police employees and the number of sworn personnel are
available, and the national counts of the two are correlated almost
perfectly (r = .985 to .995). Since most police employment (total and
sworn) is at the state or local level (for 1989: total = 90.2%, sworn
= 87.2%), the total number of police employees likely provides a good
proxy for sworn personnel.

Nonetheless, we employ an additional strategy that controls for changes
in the number of police available to be killed over the period.
Specifically, we conduct a first-difference analysis where the
variables of interest are operationalized in terms of difference
scores that are derived by subtracting the values of the variables for
the current month (month t) from the values of the variables for the
previous month (month t- 1). Thus, the first-difference analysis
examines the correspondence between month-to-month changes in police
killings and in the death penalty variables while holding constant
month-to-month changes in the control variables.

Status of the death penalty. Over the 1976-1989 period there was
considerable variation in the proportion of the U.S. population
subject to capital punishment due to legislative and judicial action.
To control for the portion of the country not subject to capital
punishment, we have computed a percent abolition population variable
based upon the ratio of (1) the size of the population residing in
abolitionist jurisdictions to (2) the total U.S. residential
population. This variable acts as a proxy for the percent of police
officers working in jurisdictions without capital punishment.

Certainty of execution. Two measures of the certainty of
execution are used: (1) the total number of monthly executions for
murder (n = 120) during the 168month period, and (2) the number of
executions associated with police killings (n = 12). Of note, a
slightly higher proportion of executions resulted from police
homicides (12/1204 = .0099) than from civilian killings (120/285,360 =
.0004) during the 1976-1989 period.

Execution publicity. We consider television news in examining the
effect of execution publicity on police killings. In recent decades
Americans have come to rely upon television more than all other media
sources combined for their daily news. Television is seen as providing
the most "complete," "intelligent," and "unbiased" source of news
(Bower, 1985; The Roper Organization, 1983). The Vanderbilt Television
News Archive provides the source of the publicity data. 

Drawing upon Bailey (1990), we alternately consider three measures of
the amount of television execution publicity in our models of police
killings. We (1) differentiate between months (0/1) where there was
zero vs. some level of execution publicity, (2) sum the minutes per
month of air time devoted to executions, and (3) add the number of
days per month where there was execution publicity. Execution coverage
occurring after the 23rd of the month is coded as taking place the
following month (Bailey & Peterson, 1989; Stack, 1987). For the period
1976-1989, there were 28 months with televised execution publicity.

Like Bailey (1990), we also consider different types of news coverage.
We alternately examine as a series of dummy variables months where (1)
artist's drawings were (n = 6), or were not, aired illustrating the
condemned person's execution, (2) witness accounts were (n = 13), or
were not, provided of the execution, and (3) the executed person's
last words were (n = 10), or were not, presented. We also distinguish
television coverage portraying offenders as "more" deserving of
execution (n = 9). These include persons involved in multiple
homicides, rape-murders, and the killing of children. Conversely, we
differentiate coverage reflecting skepticism about certain executions
(n = 9), including cases where (1) persons claimed their innocence to
the end, (2) the executed individual was not the "trigger person," and
the "real" killer received a lighter sentence, and (3) the youthful
age or mental retardation of the offender prompted appeals for mercy
from noted figures. Finally, we distinguish coverage that included
antiexecution demonstrations (n = 11). In these cases, what might have
been communicated is that capital punishment is not a legitimate

Our measures of television coverage pertain to all executions, and not
just the execution of police killers. Twelve police killers were
executed during the 1976-1989 period, but only three of the executions
received television coverage. Three cases are not sufficient to
examine the publicity hypothesis for police killings. One might also
question whether there was a sufficient number of execution stories
with more graphic and atypical content (e.g., artists drawings, n = 6;
eyewitness accounts, n = 13) over the period to provide a reliable
test of whether different types of media coverage are more or less
effective in deterring police killings. Here, we can only speculate
because there is no time period available where executions received
more detailed and graphic television media coverage. National
television news data regarding executions are not available from the
Vanderbilt Television Archive or any other source before 1976, and
since 1989 Archive records show that there has been no increase in the
amount of time and detail given to executions in the evening news.

Control variables. Six control variables are considered in the
analyses: percent metropolitan population, black population, persons
in the crime prone vears of 16-34, the divorce rate, the unemployment
rate, and percent recipients of Aid for Families with Dependent
Children (AFDC). These factors have been linked to homicide in
previous research. Monthly AFDC figures were drawn from the Annual
Statistical Supplement to the Social Security Bulletin. The
Statistical Abstracts of the United States is the source for the
remaining control variables.

Statistical analysis. The time-series analysis proceeds by first
exploring the autoregressive process for each of the police killing
measures. Using ordinary least squares (OLS) techniques, we regress
each of the rate and first-difference police killing measures against
the sanction and control variables. Possible significant
autocorrelations were explored for periods ranging through t - 12
months. Autocorrelation, also known as serial correlation, refers to
the situation in a time-series analysis where errors associated with
observations in a given time period carry over into a future time
period. Generally, the presence of significant autocorrelation affects
the efficiency of OLS parameter estimates. As Pindyck and Rubinfeld
(1976, p. 107) note:

"In the case of positive serial correlation, this loss of efficiency
will be masked by the fact that the estimates of the standard errors
obtained from the least-squares regression will be smaller than the
true standard errors. [That is], the regression estimators will be ...
biased downward. This will lead to the [mistaken] conclusion that
the parameter estimates are more precise than they actually are."

Where significant autocorrelations were found, they were fit using the
SAS (Statistical Analysis System) Autoregression procedure. In these
cases Yule-Walker estimates are presented in the tables to follow.
Where significant autocorrelations were not observed, OLS estimates
are reported. 

Multicollinearity is often a concern for this type of analysis.
Multicollinearity refers to a situation where such strong
interrelationships exist among predictor variables that it becomes
difficult to disentangle their separate effects on the dependent
variable. For example, when two or more predictor variables are
correlated perfectly, or when one predictor is a perfect linear
combination of two or more other predictors, it is impossible to
derive reliable parameter estimates for the involved variables. In
most multivariate situations, predictor variables are not totally
independent, nor are they perfectly interrelated. Rather, collinearity
is normally a matter of degree. To explore possible collinearity
problems for the death penalty variables, the monthly execution and
the execution publicity measures presented in Tables 1-4 were each
regressed against the other right-hand variables in the analysis.
These auxiliary regressions resulted in multiple R2 values ranging
from .022 to .221 for the rate models, and .015 to .183 for the
first-difference models. These very low R2 values indicate that the
statistical estimates for the death penalty variables are not affected
by collinearity problems.


The findings are presented in several stages. We first report results
for the analyses of rates of police killing when alternative measures
of the amount of execution publicity are considered, and then when
different types of publicity are examined. Next, we present the
results of the first-difference analyses considering the amount and
then types of news coverage given to executions.

Results for the Rate Analyses

Deterrence theory predicts a significant positive relationship between
the proportion of the U.S. population residing in abolitionist
jurisdictions and rates of police killing, and significant negative
associations between rates and the levels of execution and execution
publicity. Table 1 reports the analyses where monthly rates for all
types of police killing are considered. All the models presented in
the table include the control variables and the percent abolition
factor. However, the various measures of execution certainty and
execution publicity are considered in alternative models. Columns 2-4
present the analyses where the total number of executions is the
certainty measure and the execution publicity measures are
respectively a dummy variable distinguishing between months with and
without execution publicity (column 2), the number of minutes of
television coverage of executions (column 3), and the number of days
of execution coverage (column 4). In columns 5-7 this analysis is
repeated with the exception that the number of executions for police
killing is the measure of certainty. The remaining tables (2-4) follow
the same pattern of considering various combinations of execution and
execution publicity variables. 

The statistics in the tables are unstandardized partial regression
coefficients (b) with their standard errors. The statistic b provides
a measure of the tradeoff between the dependent variable (police
killings) and the predictor variable being examined. For example, in
Table 1, the b value of-.088 for the execution publicity dummy
variable (column 2) may be interpreted in the following manner.
Holding constant the effects of the other predictor variables in the
analysis for the 1976-1989 period, the police killing rate declined by
an average of .088 persons during months where there was at least some
television news coverage of executions. R2 values are also reported in
the tables. They indicate how well all of the predictor variables in
combination account for variation in the dependent variable-monthly
police killings. At the extremes, this "goodness-of-fit" measure can
range from zero to one. In the present context, an R2 value of zero
would indicate that variation in the values of the predictor (and
control variables) is totally unrelated to the level of police
killings. Values of R2 between zero and one indicate the degree of
linear association between the predictor and homicide variables. 

Table 1. Monthly Autoregressive Analysis of Rates of Total Police Killings,
Executions, and the Amount of Execution Publicity, 1976-1989

Predictor Variables

% Metropolitan population % Black population

% 16-24 Years of age Divorce rate

Unemployment rate

% AFDC population

% in Abolition jurisdictions No. of total executions No. of police-related
executions TV publicity dummy

(0/ 1) No. of minutes of execution coverage No. of days of execution coverage

2	3	4	5	6	7 b	b	b	b	b	b
(SE)	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)

.188	.187	.163	.174	.178	.154 ( .189)	( .185)	( .190)	(
.185)	( .185)	( .188) .961
*	-.966*	-.955*	-.385**	-.998**	-.968**
(.377)	(.376)	(.376)	(.374)	(.371)	(.372)
.156	-.156	-.154	-.163	-.165	-.159
(.121)	(.121)	(.121)	(.121)	(.121)	(.121)
.847*	.848**	.829*	.868*	.876	.842*
(.4l9)	(.4l7)	(.419)	(.418)	(.415)	(.417)
.042	.041	.039	.042	.042	.039
(.042)	(.043)	(.043)	(.043)	(.043)	(.043) .296	-.297	-
.298	- .310	-.311	-.306
(.352)	(.351)	(.351)	(.351)	(.350)	(.351)
.003	.003	.022	.003	.003	.002
(.012)	(.013)	(.013)	(.012)	(.013)	(.013)
014	-.002	-.007	_	_	_ (.033)	(.034)	(-033)
-	-	-	.009	.003	.020 -	(.103)	(.100)	(.103)
.008	-	-	- .027 (.094)	-	-	(.088) - .014	-	-	- .003
-	(.031)	-	-	(-009)

.225	.329 	. 308

- .027	-	-	- .034 (.050)	-	-	(.046)
2.101	1.743	1.592	3.092 .309	.306	.306	.309

Table 1 provides no indication of deterrence. For each model there is a
very slight positive but nonsignificant association (b = .002 to .022)
between the percent of the U.S. population residing in abolitionist
jurisdictions and police killing rates. There are also merely chance
associations between rates and the total number of monthly executions
(b =-.002 to-.014) and the execution of police killers (b = .003 to

The pattern is similar for the execution publicity variables. Police
killings are associated negatively with (1) the dummy variable that
distinguishes between months with and without television coverage of
executions (b = -.008 and -.027), and (2) the number of minutes (b =
-.014 and-.003), and (3) days (b = -.027 and-.034) of execution
coverage per month. In no case is the coefficient for a media variable

Table 2 extends the rate analysis to explore whether different types of
news coverage affect police killings. Rates of total police killing
are regressed against the control, abolition population, number of
total executions, and in turn, the six alternative media variables:
news including artist's drawings of executions (column 2), witness
accounts of executions (column 3), the executed person's last words
(column 4), the execution of "deserving" persons (column 5), the
execution of "nondeserving" persons (column 6), and anticapital
punishment demonstrations (column 7). 

Again there is no indication of deterrence. The police homicide rate is
associated negatively with the number of monthly executions (b = -.003
to -.018), but the coefficients are slight and nonsignificant. Also,
execution stories involving witness accounts, the presentation of the
condemned person's last words, and the execution of "deserving"
persons are associated with slightly lower rates of police killing,
but not significantly so. Conversely, artist drawings,

Table 2. Monthly Autoregressive Analysis of Rates of Total Police Killings,
Executions and Type of Execution Publicity, 1976-1989

Predictor Variables	(SE)

% Metropolitan population

% Black population

% 16-34 Years of age

Divorce rate

Unemployment rate

% AFDC population

% in Abolition jurisdictions

No. of total executions

Artist drawings (0/ 1)

Witness accounts (0/1)

Last words presented

(°/ 1) Deserving offenders

(0/1) Nondeserving offenders

(0/ 1) Execution protests (0/ 1)

.192	.185 ( .184)	( .184) - .962*	- .977** (.376)	(.377) - .155	-
.161 (.121)	(.122) .849*	.871 (.417)	(.419) .042	.041
(.042)	(.042) - .296	- .307

(.351)	(.352) .003	.002 (.012)	(.012) - .016	- .010 ( .030)	(
.031) .015

(.161) —	- .091

—	( 119)

3	4	5	6	7 b	b	b	b	b (SE)	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)

.166 (. l7s) -.953** (.376) - .152 (.121) .850* (.417) .036 (.043) - .295 (.351)
.001 (.013) - .007 (.031)

- .127 (.135)

.146	.192	.204 ( .186)	( .183)	( .184) - .918*	- .955*	- .972*
(.375)	(.377)	(-375) -.161	-.157	-.151 (.121)	(.121)	(.121)
.864*	.858*	.836* (.415)	(.419)	(.417) .037	.043	.042
(.042)	(.042)	(.042) - .264	- .290	- .296 (.3s0)	(.352)	(.350)
.003	.004	.004 (.012)	(.012)	(.012) - .003	- .018	- .017
(.031)	(.031)	( .030)

- .200 (. l46)


Intercept		-.159	.757	1.732	2.854	-.209	-I 030
R~		.309	.310	.310	.316	.309	.311

*11 < .05	**p < .01. Bailey and Peterson

the execution of "nondeserving" persons, and antideath penalty protests are
associated with slightly higher rates of police killing, but only at a chance
level. Although not shown here, the same patterns hold when the analysis is
repeated considering the number of executions for police killings as the
certainty measure. 

The analyses presented in Tables 1 and 2 were repeated considering
rates for each of the four types of police killing: on-duty police
killings, off-duty police killings, general jurisdiction police
killings, and special police killings. In each case, the pattern of
findings was nearly identical to those presented for total police
homicides. There was no indication of deterrence for any type of
police killing. In the interests of brevity, we do not present these
null findings in tabular form.

First-Difference Analyses

As discussed earlier, our measures of police killing rates are limited
because the number of police employees, rather than sworn personnel,
is used as the denominator in forming rates. To determine if this
limitation is responsible for our nondeterrence findings,
first-difference analyses were conducted where we examine the
correspondence between month-to-month changes in the death penalty and
control variables, and changes in the (1) total number of police
killings, and (2) number of different types of police homicide. Table
3 reports the results of the first-difference analysis when the amount
of publicity is considered and the total number of police killings is
the dependent variable.

Here, we find positive but nonsignificant associations between total
police killings and the portion of the U.S. population in abolitionist
jurisdictions, the number of total executions (columns 2-4),
police-related executions (columns 5-7), the execution publicity dummy
variable, and the number of minutes of news coverage of executions.
Changes in the number of days of news coverage of executions and the
number of police killings are associated negatively as deterrence
theory predicts (b =-.142 and-.074), but the coefficients are not

As before, we extended the first-difference analysis to consider
homicides for different types of police. The findings of these
analyses for the killing of onand off-duty police, and regular and
special police, parallel very closely those reported in Table 3. Since
there is no indication of deterrence, we do not present these results
in tabular form. 

First-difference analyses were also conducted examining types of media
coverage of executions. These results, which are presented in Table 4,
show a pattern that is very similar to the results of the rate
analysis (Table 2). Total police killings were not found to be related
significantly to (1) percent abolition population, (2) total
executions or executions resulting from police killings (not shown),
or (3) the six types of television coverage. 

Table 3. First-Difference Autoregressive Analysis of Rates of Total Police
Killings, Executions, and the Amount of Execution Publicity, 1976-1989

2	3	4	5	6	7 b	b	b	b	b	b Predictor
Variables	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)

% Metropolitan popula tion % Black population

% 16-34 Years of age

Divorce rate

Unemployment rate

% AFDC population

% in Abolition jurisdic tions No. of total executions

No. of police-related executions TV publicity dummy (0/1) variable No. of minutes
of execu tion coverage No. of days of execution coverage Intercept	- .066	-
.065 R2	.030	.030

.890	.851	.688	1.039	.984	.903
(2.415)	(2.401)	(2.399)	(2.397)	(2.392)	(2.388) - .750	-
.921	- 1.005	-.738	-.905	- 1.072
(8.663)	(8.709)	(8.653)	(8.741)	(8.780)	(8.744)
-2.971	-3.006	-2.913	-3.041	-3.085	-3.007
(2.383)	(2.400)	(2.374)	(2.411)	(2.427)	(2.412)
6.718	6.833	6.689	6.668	6.737	6.621
(4.602)	(4.622)	(4.599)	(4.619)	(4.634)	(4.625)
.810	.816	.792	.804	.812	.784
(.612)	(.617)	(.610)	(.618)	(.623)	(.619)
-5.066	-5.082	-5.013	-5.099	-5.129	-5.068
(6.239)	(6.292)	(6.212)	(6.339)	(6.386)	(6.341)
.141	.141	.132	.148	.151	.142
(.196)	(.198)	(.196)	(.199)	(.202)	(.200)
.169	.180	.232	-	-	- (.269)	(.263)	(.273)	-	-	-
-	-	-	.444	.465	.508 -	-	-	(.725)	(.719)	(.729)
.147	-	-	.227 (.677)	-	-	(.646) -	.007	-	-	.017
-	(.068)	-	-	(.066) -	-	- .142	-	-	- .074
-	-	(.353)	-	-	( 333) - .063	- .067	- .066	- .064
()31	n3()	()3n	.()1()

Although not shown here, the first-difference analysis was further
extended to consider the four types of police killing. Here too the
null pattern prevailed with one exception. The first-difference
analysis revealed a significant inverse relationship between the
execution of "deserving" offenders and the number of killings
involving special police both when the certainty of execution is
operationalized as the (1) total number of executions (b = -.461, SE =
.203, p < .05), and (2) number of executions of police killers (b
=-.461, SE = .197, p < .01). Over the 1976-1989 period, the execution
of "deserving" offenders (multiple victim killers, rape-murderers, and
child killers) was associated, on average, with roughly one-half fewer
monthly killings of specialized police such as fish and game
protectors, customs agents, border patrol, public transportation and
housing police, and park rangers. These findings are consistent with
deterrence predictions. They suggest that considering month-to-month
changes in the number of police killings is preferable to the earlier
rate analyses. 

	However, the findings also raise an obvious question. Why would
deterrence be confined solely to one type of execution publicity and
one relatively uncommon type of police killing? (Of the 1204 officers
killed during the 19761989 period, only 53 involved special police.)
Perhaps the execution of "deserving" persons (n = 9) is particularly
effective in discouraging police homicides.However, more than likely,
the pattern observed for the first-difference analysis for "deserving"
offenders and "special" police killings is a fluke, an artifact
stemming from the timing of such killings-i.e., the unusually high
number of special police killed (x = .889) during the nine months
immediately preceding (t - I) the months with television publicity of
"deserving" executions. To assess the impact of this pattern, we
reestimated the first-difference equations, substituting the average
monthly number of special police killings during the 1976-1989 period
(x = .316) in place of the actual values for the nine months preceding
television coverage of "deserving" executions (x = .889). The revised
firstdifference analysis reveals negative, but chance only
associations between police killings and the media coverage of
deserving executions. In short, because the nine t- 1 months had such
an atypically high number of killings of special police, the results
of our original first-difference analysis appear to be artifactual. We
simply see no theoretically meaningful way, via deterrence or
brutalization, that execution publicity for a future month could
influence the level of these types of police killing for the current

Table 4. First-Difference Autoregressive Analysis of Rates of Total Police
Killings, Executions, and Type of Execution Publicity, 1976-1989

Predictor Variables	(SE)

% Metropolitan population % Black population

% 16-34 Years of age

Divorce rate

Unemployment rate

% AFDC population

% in Abolition jurisdictions No. of total executions

Artist drawings (0/1)

Witness accounts (0/1)

Last words presented

(°/ 1) Deserving offenders (0/1) Nondeserving offenders

(°/ 1) Execution protests (0/1)

3	4	5	6	7 b	b	b	b	b

(SE)	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)	(SE)

.815	.868	.734	.489	.764	.804
(2.373)	(2.382)	(2.382)	(2.380)	(2.430)	(2.372) - .827	-
.793	- 1.080	- 1.324	- 1.339	- 1.418
(8.617)	(8.648)	(8.617)	(8.606)	(8.803)	(8.636)
-2.948	-2.934	-3.010	-2.836	-3.092	-2.969
(2.368)	(2.385)	(2.384)	(2.364)	(2.440)	(2.370)
6.756	6.834	7.326	6.504	6.581	6.508
(4.591)	(4.603)	(4.607)	(4.574)	(4.717)	(4.591)
.805	.813	.803	.748	.803	.765
(.608)	(.612)	(.613)	(.608)	(.628)	(.610)

-5.050	-5.134	-5.151	-4.813	-5.295	-4.907
(6.193)	(6.250)	(6.249)	(6.187)	(6.419)	(6.204)
.139	.131	.115	.139	.140	.140
(.195)	(.196)	(.197)	(.194)	(.201)	(.195)
.193	.247	.235	.261	.195	.184
(.257)	(.263)	(.259)	(.261)	(.266)	(.254) - .068 (1.178) - .765
(.852) - I . 1 15 (.943) - I . 1 10 (1.022) .094 (1.060) .848

—	—	—	—	—	(1.042) Intercept	- .065	- .065	- .063	-
.059	- .064	- .062 R2	.030	.035	.040	.037	.030	.034

Summary and Conclusion
The central focus of deterrence and death penalty research has been to examine the effect of capital punishment on the general homicide rate. With few exceptions, criminologists have ignored the possibility that capital punishment may be more/less effective in preventing different types of killing. Among the exceptions are several investigations of whether police are afforded an added measure of protection against murder by capital punishment (Bailey, 1982; Bailey & Peterson, 1987; Sellin, 1955). These studies have found no evidence of deterrence, but they are few in number and they suffer from important limitations. In this investigation we have extended our understanding of this issue by (1) considering different types of police killing, (2) examining the effect of executions in general and the execution of police killers, (3) exploring the effects of different measures of the amount and type of media coverage of executions, and (4) examining the deterrence question with disaggregated monthly data. Despite these innovations, we find no consistent evidence that capital punishment influenced police killings during the 1976-1989 period. This null pattern holds for four of the five dependent variables: the rate and number of killings involving total, on-duty, off-duty, and regular sworn personnel. The first-difference analysis produced one departure from the null pattern for the killing of special police. However, for the reasons detailed above, this result appears to be artifactual. In sum, for the period under study here, police do not appear to have been afforded an added measure of protection against homicide by capital punishment. Yet our analysis does not resolve the police killings and capital punishment question. Analyses that disaggregate police killings into additional subtypes are needed. Like general homicides, police killings are not homogeneous with regard to victim and offender characteristics, or the circumstances surrounding police-citizen confrontations. For example, aggregate FBI figures for the 19801989 period show that the circumstances surrounding police killings (n = 801) vary widely: (1) responses to disturbance calls (16.5%), (2) attempting arrests (40.9%), (3) handling and transporting prisoners (4.2%), (4) investigating suspicious persons (14.4%), (5) ambush situations (8.7%), (6) traffic pursuits and stops (13.5%), and (7) killings by mentally deranged persons (1.6%). It remains to be determined if capital punishment differentially influences police killings that vary along these lines. In addition. FBI aggregate data and narrative accounts of police killings show variation in both officer (age, gender, years of police service, etc.) and offender characteristics (age, race, ethnicity, concurrent involvement in other crimes, prior record, etc.). Recognizing this variation, future researchers should explore whether (1) different types of officers who are dealing with (2) different types of persons in (3) different types of situations are afforded more/less protection against homicide by capital punishment. Examining these questions provides the next logical step toward a more complete understanding of the relationship between police killings and capital punishment. In the meantime, we recognize that our research is likely to be disappointing to those seeking an empirical basis for developing capital punishment policies. Future research may identify some specific conditions under which the death penalty influences police killings. However, for those attempting to base policies on the current evidence, it must be concluded that deterrence effects largely do not occur, or where they occur they may be offset by brutalizing effects.
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American Sociological Review, 52, 532-540. Stack, S. (1990). Execution publicity and homicide in South Carolina. Sociological Quarterly, 31, 599-611. Sutherland, E. (1925). Murder and the death penalty. Journal of the American Institute of Criminal Law and Criminology, 51, 522-529. van den Haag, E. (1975). Punishing criminals: Concerning a very old and painful question. New York: Basic Books. van den Haag, E., & Conrad, J. (1983). The death penalty: A debate. New York: Plenum. Yunker, J. (1976).1s the death penalty a deterrent to homicide? Some time series evidence. Journal of Behavioral Economics, 5, 1-32. Zimring, F. E., & Hawkins, G. (1986). Capital punishment and the American agenda. New York: Cambridge University Press. WILLIAM C. BAILEY is an professor of sociology and an associate dean of graduate studies at Cleveland State University. He received his Ph.D. in sociology from Washington State University in 1971. He has published extensively on the role of capital punishment in society, crime and deterrence, and urban crime patterns. RUTH D. PETERSON is associate professor of sociology at Ohio State University. She received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin— Madison in 1983. She has published on crime and deterrence, the determinants of legal/justice decisions, and crime and social inequality.