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NCJRS Abstract

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NCJ Number: 81852 Find in a Library
Title: Street-Level Justice - Situational Determinants of Police Arrest Decisions
Journal: Social Problems  Volume:29  Issue:2  Dated:(December 1981)  Pages:167-177
Author(s): D A Smith; C A Visher
Date Published: 1981
Page Count: 11
Sponsoring Agency: National Science Foundation
Arlington, VA 22230
Grant Number: GI43949
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: An examination of variations in police arrest practices, based on data collected in 1977 from police encounters with suspects, indicates that arrest practices reflect both legal and extra-legal situational factors.
Abstract: Data collection was done by trained civilians riding on 900 patrol shifts who recorded information on 5,688 police-citizens encounters in 24 police departments in the metropolitan areas of St. Louis, Rochester, N.Y., and Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla. From these, 742 pertinent encounters were extracted for analysis. Most police contacts with suspects involved misdemeanor offenses; 81.7 percent of the suspects were male, 51.6 percent were white; the predominant age was 19-35 years. Victims were present in less than half of the cases -- 21.3 percent of the victims requested suspect's arrest; 35.4 percent requested informal disposition; 43.3 percent expressed no preference. The decision to take a suspect into custody appeared to be influenced by such features of the situation as the dispositional preferences of victims, the suspect's race and demeanor and the presence of bystanders. Furthermore, the seriousness of the offense increased the chances of arrest. Contrary to much existing literature, males and females were equally likely to be arrested. The research lends some support to both the consensus and conflict models of police behavior. While legal offense seriousness and victim preference motivate arrests, so do suspects' positions of social disadvantage (e.g., being black). Another motivation for arrest decisions is the police need to express authority and appear in control especially before victims and onlookers. The assumption that when victim and suspect know each other, the victim may be less willing to cooperate in the subsequent adjudication may be a deterrent to arrest. Graphs, tabular data, and 41 references are given.
Index Term(s): Arrest and apprehension; Police attitudes; Police discretion; Victim-offender relationships
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