The demographic and ecological distribution of police discretion in an urban area.
AuthorPatnoe, Jerry Lee.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractPolice discretion has been frequently studied in relationship to arrest practices. The present study reconceptualized Shaw and McKay's (1942) social disorganization theory of the causes of delinquency as a theory proposing that police discretion is largely determined by conditions of disorganization. This theory is viewed as more advantageous than conflict theories of police activity because it allows for normative, exchange, and coercive solutions, rather than only the latter as is the case with conflict based theory. To test this theory, individual, structural, and ecological variables were incorporated in the analyses which examined the distribution of type of referral made by the police. Additionally, Black's (1976) proposition that ecological and structural conditions sufficiently explain police behavior was evaluated. Investigation was limited to physical and citation referral. The sample consisted of all referrals of juveniles made during 1984 in Pima County, Arizona. Three regression analyses were performed: (1) individual level characteristics, (2) contextual characteristics only, and, (3) an analysis including both. The results of the first analysis indicated some police bias toward minorities, but the bulk of explanation was attributed to legal variables. The second analysis provided a model that was statistically sufficient to explain police behavior. However, the model indicated that Black's theory requires considerable revision. The last analysis indicated that the bulk of explanation of police behavior was attributable to legal and normative considerations. Few indicators of coercive solutions were located, suggesting that a theory incorporating social disorganization as a determinate of police behavior is superior to a conflict based theory.