Dissertation Project

While New York State Senator Jessie Hamilton, who is Black, was campaigning for re-election on a street corner near Prospect Park in Brooklyn, an elderly White woman approached him and his campaign staffers to denounce what she interpreted as polarizing language on a campaign flyer (Culliton, 2018).[1] The encounter quickly escalated as this woman threatened and then called the police on Hamilton and his campaign staffers. Shortly thereafter, in August 2018, Hamilton proposed new legislation (N.Y. Senate S09149, 2018) that would classify 911 call harassment as a hate crime (Hamilton, 2018). In proposing this legislation, Hamilton sought to generalize from his own experience what he perceived as a much broader class of discriminatory encounters promulgated by 911 call misuse.[2] Unfortunately, Hamilton’s proposed legislation died in committee; however, his efforts eventually inspired New York and several other legislative bodies, including both state – New York, California, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington – and local – San Francisco, Los Angeles, Grand Rapids (MI), to enact their own proposals. Hamilton’s negative police encounter only emerged because a lone individual took it upon herself to call the police when their assistance was not needed. Fortunately, the responding officer handled the encounter well and ignored the instigator’s grievance. Hamilton had the legal right to distribute any campaign flier he so chose. As other highly publicized controversies have demonstrated, however, being engaged in normal everyday activity does not prevent some people from using 911 for punishment and harassment (Criss, 2018; Mezzofiore, 2018; Molina, 2018; Vera & Criss, 2018; Williams, 2018a, 2018b; Yan, 2018). Often, these encounters involve an unsuspecting minority victim and an elderly White instigator. These selective, highly publicized encounters, however, do not define a distribution. When 911 call misuse commonly occurs across a jurisdiction, does this demand for policing presence actively shape policing behavior? According to Hamilton and others, the answer is ‘yes,’ 911 call misuse actively shapes jurisdictional policing strategies at both the interpersonal-level, where responding officers go along with the harassment, and at the jurisdictional-level, where fashion surveillance and enforcement strategies that reflect 911 demands. Under this line of reasoning, some have even speculated that 911 calls are an effective tool for social control (Weaver, 2018). Unfortunately, very little empirical evidence exists detailing how residents can affect law enforcement behavior from the bottom-up. This dissertation project fills this knowledge gap by investigating how demand for policing presence shapes the neighborhood distribution of officer-initiated surveillance and enforcement acts. Framed as a question, what effect does demand for policing presence, as proxied by 911 call locations, have on the location of officer-initiated surveillance and enforcement strategies? Throughout this, I explore how 911 calls actively shape officer-initiated surveillance and enforcement strategies.

Deadly Justice: A Statistical Portrait of the Death Penalty

In 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated all existing death penalty laws in Furman v. Georgia. In striking down these state laws, the court cited how these sentences were administered with a seemingly arbitrary and capricious nature. After making this landmark decision, the Court abruptly shifted course by validating a set of laws reinstating the death penalty in Gregg v. Georgia(1976). In reversing its previous decision, the Court attempted to create a new system that corrected the biases of the pre-Furman system by zeroing in on the crimes most deserving of death. In Deadly Justice: A Statistical Portrait of the Death Penalty (Oxford University Press, 2018), my co-authors and I investigate whether the modern death penalty system satisfied the issues raised by the Furman majority. Specifically, have the states reserved death for only the truly heinous crimes, or does the capriciousness, bias, and arbitrariness outlined by the Furman majority continue to pervade the system? Drawing upon data on death sentences and executions since 1976, we describe the failure of the current system. Not only have state governments failed to correct the issues raised in Furman, but we identify several new problems the justices never anticipated: high costs, botched executions, processing delays, geographic arbitrariness, high reversal rates, and last-minute execution stays. The book’s descriptive results have informed various policy-advocacy organizations, such as the Death Penalty Information Center (DPIC), and the United States Supreme Court – 585 U. S. (2018) (Breyer Dissenting).


  1. Frank R. Baumgartner, Marty A. Davidson, II, Kaneesha R. Johnson, Arvind Krishnamurthy, and Collin Wilson. Deadly Justice: A Statistical Portrait of the Death Penalty. Oxford University Press. (2018).

  2. Referenced by Justice Stephen Breyer in 585 U.S. ____ (2018) (Breyer Dissenting)

Writing Example:

Working as Intended

Over the seven-year period from 2013 through 2019, prosecutors filed over 13 million charges against millions of individuals in the state of North Carolina. Many of these alleged offenses were for speeding or other traffic offenses, others were for fishing and wildlife offenses or property crimes such as robbery and theft, and a small percentage were for violent crimes such as assault and homicide. Few outside the system may realize that fewer than five percent of all felonies are in fact crimes of violence. During this observed period, non-violent felonies included filing a false lien, taking a milk crate, stealing pine straw, simulating a court process, or failing to disclose the true name and address of the manufacturer of a musical recording. Similarly, misdemeanors included damaging a computer, inhaling toxic vapors, manufacturing a slot machine, and exposing a child to a fire. These observations prompt us to ask: Is the legal system keeping us safe from violent acts, or has it accumulated over the decades into a system that also includes many other goals, including social control of marginalized communities?

In this book, my co-authors and I make use of a comprehensive database covering every arrest over seven years in a single state, providing a comprehensive look into a state’s criminal legal system from start to finish. How many people are arrested for which types of crimes? Who are those people: rich, poor, young, old, male, female, black, white, Native American, or some other race, residing in urban, rural, small towns, or a big city? By describing from head to toe the internal workings of the North Carolina criminal legal system, we seek to understand how the state constructs social orderings. We also seek to understand the extent to which laws are designed to keep us safe or whether they are designed to criminalize certain groups of people. By looking across the board, at every single arrest in an entire state over a seven-year time period, we can assess not only what our leaders say and expressly value by putting these items into the state code, but we can also see where our collective law enforcement resources are allocated.

In writing Working as Intended, we demonstrate how many of the racial, gender, and class-based disparities in the criminal legal system are by design and not happenstance. The first theme we explore involves public safety, social control, and legislative intent. For this theme, we primarily focus on data concerning who gets arrested for which types of crimes, documenting social disparities in the rates of arrest for different parts of the criminal code. Then we assess whether these aspects of the code were designed at the time they were passed into law to target those precise demographic groups. The second theme we explore involves legal sprawl, police discretion, and unequal enforcement. For this theme, we primarily focus on crimes bolstered by police discretion. This includes the vast number of laws regulating illicit drug use and socially undesirable actions but not crimes of violence.


  1. Baumgartner, Davidson, and Johnson. Working as Intended: Race, Class, Gender and the Law. In Progress.

Working Papers:

  1. Frank R. Baumgartner, Marty A. Davidson, II, and Kaneesha R. Johnson. Disproportionate Criminal Justice Contact: A System Working as Designed?. Invited submission to the Journal of the Center for Policy Analysis and Research, submitted May 6, 2022

SUNGEO Project

I am a co-collaborator with the Sub-National Geospatial (SUNGEO) group at the University of Michigan (NSF Award #1925693). Kenneth Kollman is the principal investigator and Yuri Zhukov is the co-investigator. This collaboration has resulted in a co-authored R package uploaded to the CRAN network and a co-authored article on areal interpolation and measurement error, which is currently under review with Political Analysis.

Working Papers:

  1. Jason Byers, Marty Davidson, Kenneth Kollman, and Yuri Zhukov. Integrating Data Across Misaligned Spatial Units. Revise and Resubmit at Political Analysis


  1. Jason Byers, Marty A. Davidson, II, and Yuri Zhukov. SUNGEO: Sub-National Geospatial Data Archive: Geoprocessing Toolkit

Conference Presentations

  1. Public Safety and Police Traffic Stops. Paper presented at the American Political Science Association annual meetings, 2022. (Frank R. Baumgartner, Marty A. Davidson, II, Derek A. Epp, Kaneesha R. Johnson, and Kelsey Shoub)

  2. Finding Discriminatory Legislative Intent when Criminal Justice Outcomes Show Racially Disparate Impact. Paper presented at the Midwest Political Science Association annual meetings, Chicago IL, April 7–10, 2022. (Kaneesha R. Johnson, Frank R. Baumgartner, and Marty A. Davidson, II)

  3. Social Identity and Criminal Justice Contact. Paper presented at the Midwest Political Science Association annual meetings, Chicago IL, April 7–10, 2022. (Marty A. Davidson, II, Frank R. Baumgartner, and Kaneesha R. Johnson)