Urban Police


In the 1970s, changes in the nature of economic development and growth left many northern industrial cities stagnating with declining populations. During this time period, many urbanites moved to the suburbs to escape the congestion and rising crime rates of inner cities. Described as "white flight," middle-and upper-class, predominantly white Americans moved to the suburbs, further eroding the tax base in inner city areas. Poverty and crime increased in these areas, where remaining residents were primarily lower-income minorities. Massey and Denton argue that African Americans and Puerto Ricans are the only groups who have "simultaneously experienced high levels of residential segregation and sharp increases in poverty," which created underclass communities, characterized by "poverty, family instability, welfare dependency, crime, housing abandonment, and low educational achievement" (pp. 146, 130).

Policing these underclass communities is a distinctly urban phenomenon that is particularly challenging for police. Egon Bittner has described "skid row" as a distinct geographic area within inner cities where people "lack the capacities and commitments to live normal lives," (1967b, p. 705). This limited capacity may be due to drug or alcohol addiction, mental illness, or poverty. Skid row areas are often characterized by high crime rates and poverty, and in America's "throw away society," the people living in these areas are treated as expendable. They reside in areas where "the overall air is not so much one of active distrust as it is irrelevance of trust" (1967b, p. 705). Dealing with situations where suspects and victims often have "nothing to lose" requires special handling by police. Most police tactics involve "containing" these areas.

Previous studies have shown that the majority of service calls in urban areas are concentrated within a few addresses. For example, Sherman, Gartin, and Buerger reported that 50 percent of the calls for service in Minneapolis during a three-year period came from only 3 percent of the addresses within the city. This entry examines some of the issues involved with special populations and types of crimes that present policing problems in these "hot spots." Special populations considered in this entry include minorities, juveniles, mentally ill citizens, the homeless, and crowds. In addition, special types of situations described include narcotics enforcement, gun violence, minor offenses and incivilities, and domestic violence. For each of these topics, the role, strategies, and changes in the policies of urban police will be described.

Policing minority citizens

Historically, cooperation and communication between police and minorities has been troubled. Williams and Murphy described a history of policing shaped by the enforcement of laws that have discriminated against minority groups, particularly African Americans. Slavery, segregation, and discrimination are historical realities that shaped the current distrustful, strained, and often hostile relationship between police and minority citizens. This poor relationship reached its pinnacle during the police-citizen crisis of the 1960s. The civil rights movement had gained momentum and become more militant. Protesters gathered to demonstrate against race discrimination and injustice within the criminal justice system. Police officers responded to protesters with physical brutality, which increased the tension between minorities and the police. This tension exploded in the form of riots and civil disobedience, often sparked by incidents involving the police (Walker, 1999).

As a result of several crime commission reports and research findings questioning the effectiveness of "professional" police organizations, police organizational strategies evolved to focus on strengthening relationships and creating partnerships between the police and citizens. Police departments attempted to improve community relations through the creation of police-community relations units, race relations training for officers, and the hiring of more minorities and women. Some of these techniques were relatively successful. As reported by Walker (1999), African American officers represented a majority of the force in departments such as Detroit, Washington, and Atlanta in 1993. In addition, African Americans were selected as police chiefs in several large departments, including New York City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and others. Furthermore, by the mid-1990s, women represented 13 percent of all officers in large police departments.

Despite these advances, police still struggle with minority community relations. In 1993, the acquittal of four officers accused of beating Rodney King, an African American motorist in Los Angeles, sparked race riots across the country. Other major cases of police abuse of force in the 1990s (e.g., the Louima and Diallo cases in New York City) further increased tension between the police and minorities. In 1996, 26 percent of African American citizens surveyed reported they had very little or no confidence in the police, compared to only 9 percent of white respondents (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1996). Furthermore, when asked about attitudes toward use of force, 60 percent of whites had favorable attitudes compared to 33 percent of African Americans and 42 percent of Hispanics (Huang and Vaughn).

Serious questions regarding police discrimination remain. Studies routinely show that minorities are overrepresented as suspects who have force used against them, and who are shot and killed by officers. Worden's analysis of 1977 data showed that police were more likely to use both reasonable and unreasonable force against black male suspects. This is also true of the use of deadly force. However, changes in police departments' administrative policies led to decreases in the use of deadly force by officers. In a study of the New York City Police Department, Fyfe found that changes in the department's formal policies governing police shootings in 1972 reduced the average numbers of shots fired by officers by 30 percent. The total number of uses of deadly force decreased by nearly 50 percent from 1970 to 1984. In that same time period, the ratio of African Americans to whites who had deadly force used against them decreased from six-to-one to three-to-one (Walker, 1999). Reductions in police use of deadly force toward minorities were also noted after the fleeing-felon standard guiding police use of deadly force was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in Tennessee v. Garner, 105 S. Ct. 1694 (1985).

African Americans are also disproportionately arrested more often than whites. It is unclear whether these disparities in arrest statistics represent actual discrimination (i.e., disparity based on extra legal factors, such as race). When other factors are taken into consideration (e.g., seriousness of the offense, the evidence available, demeanor of the suspect, etc.), it appears that arrest decisions are influenced more by situational and legal factors than strictly race (Riksheim and Chermak). However, police are more likely to police inner-city neighborhoods, which are predominantly minority areas. In this sense, police may be showing a form of contextual discrimination by heavily policing particular neighborhoods or particular types of crimes.

A concern is that police officers are profiling citizens based on race and ethnicity. The term DWB or driving while black is a vivid descriptor of this phenomenon. Minority groups claim that police are more likely to pull over motorists simply because of their race. In fact, studies of New Jersey State Police have shown that minorities are pulled over disproportionately. This same argument is made in urban areas, where minorities believe they have become the targets of police harassment through tactics of aggressive enforcement of minor crimes. Studies of police have shown that African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately stopped, questioned, and frisked by police (Browning et al.). Surveys of citizens also indicated that African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to be stopped and interrogated by police. One survey of African American high school students revealed that 80 percent had been stopped by police and 62 percent of those stopped said the police treated them disrespectfully (Walker, Spohn, and DeLone).

At the same time, however, minority citizens complain that police are not responding to their needs in these areas. Citizens allege that police are not providing adequate protection or attention in their neighborhoods. According to Walker, this apparent contradiction can be explained by "the diversity within racial and ethnic minority communities . . . . Complaints about police harassment generally come from young males who have a high level of contact with the police. Most members of racial minority communities, however, are law-abiding adults with jobs and families. Like their white counterparts, they want more not less police protection" (1999, p. 222).

In the 1980s, new strategies of communityoriented policing have encouraged the partnership between citizens and the police. Research has shown, however, that strategies of community policing tend to have the strongest impact on neighborhoods where they are least needed. Satisfaction with community policing techniques is highest in homogeneous, higher socioeconomic status communities, and lowest in heterogeneous, lower socioeconomic status communities (Bayley, 1988). It is clear that new approaches to improve police-minority relations are needed.

Policing juveniles

Walker (1999) notes that policing juveniles represents a special problem for police in urban areas for a number of reasons. First, officers are more likely to come into contact with juveniles because they often "hang-out" in groups on the streets that officers patrol. Second, juveniles have less favorable attitudes toward police, although it is unknown if juveniles are more likely to act disrespectfully based on these attitudes. Finally, juveniles "represent a large proportion of the crime problem: 16 percent of all arrests, 29 percent of all Index crime arrests, and 33 percent of all property crime arrests" (p. 114).

Although handling juvenile incidents is believed to be a special problem for police, researchers know very little about actual street interactions between police and juveniles. Research conducted in the 1960s suggests that officers are more likely to initiate contact with juveniles than with adults and that officers have a large amount of discretion during these encounters. This research also shows that taking no official action is the most likely outcome of encounters with juveniles. When arrest is used, it is more likely in situations that are more serious, when victims request arrest, and the juvenile suspect acts in a hostile manner toward police (Piliavin and Briar; Black and Reiss).

Historically, police have taken a patriarchal role toward juveniles. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, police departments housed wayward youths. In the early to mid 1990s, larger police departments became specialized and juvenile units were created. Police organizations recognized the need to treat juveniles as a distinct group, and police working in these units emphasized the goals of prevention, education, and treatment. A survey of large police departments in 1993 revealed that 88 percent of departments had special juvenile units and 76 percent had special gang units (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995).

As late as the 1980s, police departments were still emphasizing crime prevention and education programs for juveniles. However, in the 1990s, with the exception of the DARE program (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), crime prevention and education in many departments were virtually abandoned in favor of aggressive enforcement policies. Most citizens perceive that juvenile crime is on the rise. Police departments and juvenile courts systems across the country have been barraged with "get tough" attitudes emphasized by politicians and the media, and have changed their policies as a result. Yet, in his examination of juvenile crime rates, Thomas Bernard notes that with the exception of homicide, juvenile crime has actually declined "by about one-third over the last twenty years" (p. 337).

Relative to homicide, Bernard notes that the number of juvenile arrests between 1984 and 1993 nearly tripled. While the rate declined by 31 percent from 1993 to 1996, the rate in 1996 was still twice as high as it was in 1984. The increase in homicide rates is often attributed to changes in drug markets and the organization of juvenile gangs. Gangs are represented in over one hundred cities across the United States. Juvenile street gangs in Los Angeles and Detroit are believed to control about 60 percent of the crack cocaine drug trade in those areas (Gaines et al.). Estimates of juvenile gang membership are as high as 150,000 in Los Angeles alone.

Gaines and his colleagues describe four misconceptions related to youth gangs, the drug trade, and law enforcement. First, they note that although law enforcement officials portray gangs as highly organized and structured, they are in reality loosely defined and have high turnover. Second, they note that their violence is based mostly on disputes over turf and respect, rather than the drug trade itself. Third, police often incorrectly label youths as gang members (particularly minorities). And finally, they note that youth gangs are street-level retailers that do not control the drug supply. Due to these misconceptions, Gaines and his colleagues argue that unnecessary panic and media attention guide policymaking regarding juvenile gangs.

Traditional law enforcement responses to gang-related problems involved prevention. Police gang units tried to prevent intra-gang violence by collecting information and interceding when possible. These strategies are largely ineffective. Alternative strategies involve aggressive law enforcement, including enforcement of antigang legislation. However, some of this legislation has been struck down by the courts as unconstitutional. For example, in 1999, the U.S. Supreme Court in City of Chicago v. Morales, 119 S. Ct. 1849 (1999) struck down Chicago's antiloitering law aimed at gang members, which initiated 42,000 arrests in its three years of enforcement (Hornblower). Furthermore, the aggressive tactics of antigang police units have come under intense scrutiny. Officers in the infamous CRASH (Community Resources Against Street Hoodlums) unit of the Los Angeles Police Department have been accused of falsifying and planting evidence on suspects, perjury, and extreme abuses of force. In what is being described as the largest police misconduct scandal in recent history, as of August 2000, ninety-eight criminal cases have been reversed, five officers are facing felony criminal charges, and twenty-five officers have been suspended, fired, or resigned (Feldman).

Policing mentally disordered citizens

Police have long been recognized as a community mental health resource, a role that has expanded in recent years as a result of deinstitutionalization. Policies of deinstitutionalization implemented in the United States have reduced the state and county hospital psychiatric patient populations from a total of 560,000 in 1955 to 125,000 in 1981, a decline of 75 percent (Wacholz and Mullaly). As a result, individuals with mental disorders currently reside in communities where psychiatric care is provided by community-based mental health facilities or the criminal justice system. Within this context, police serve as gatekeepers responsible for choosing which type of facility, mental health or criminal justice, that citizens with mental disorders will enter.

As a result of deinstitutionalization, police calls to incidents involving citizens with mental disorders have increased significantly, leading to increases in criminal justice processing of these citizens (Bonovitz and Bonovitz). The notion that the criminal justice system is increasingly relied upon to handle persons with mental disordersparticularly those engaging in minor offensesis often referred to as the criminalization of the mentally disordered. The criminalization hypothesis rests on the belief that mentally disordered citizens are more likely to be arrested than non-mentally disordered citizens, and that the population of mentally disordered people in prison has risen dramatically (Lamb and Weinberger). Only two studies have examined the relative probabilities of arrest for mentally disordered versus non-mentally disordered suspects. Teplin's 1984 study of police discretion toward mentally disordered citizens in Chicago in 1981 found the probability of being arrested was approximately 20 percent higher for mentally disordered suspects compared to non-mentally disordered suspects. However, another study of police discretion in multiple sites in 1977 and 19961997 has found that police are significantly less likely to arrest mentally disordered suspects (Engel and Silver). Therefore, the debate over the criminalization hypothesis continues.

Police have a large amount of discretion available to them when deciding what course to take regarding mentally disordered suspects. Observations of the police suggest that they are more likely to use informal means to handle situations involving mentally disordered citizens. For example, officers often use "psychiatric first aid" as an alternative to hospitalization or arrest (Teplin and Pruett). This may be due to the strong standards generally attached to hospitalization. For example, in the state of Florida, the Baker Act requires that citizens who pose a danger to themselves or others be involuntary hospitalized. Other states have similar legislation. Officers are also reluctant to hospitalize mentally disordered citizens because hospitals often refuse to admit them because they do not have enough beds, cannot handle dangerous or violent persons, or impose higher admissions criteria than required by the law.

In an effort to better handle situations involving mentally disordered citizens, 45 percent of large departments surveyed in 1998 indicated that they use some type of specialized response (Deane et al.). This research group reported that three models of specialized police response were the most common: (1) police-based specialized police response (sworn officers trained to provide mental health crisis intervention, also act as liaisons to mental health system); (2) police-based specialized mental health response (mental health consultants hired by police department provide telephone consultations to officers in the field); and (3) mental healthbased specialized mental health response (use of mobile mental health crisis teams). Nonetheless, more than half of the large departments surveyed did not have any type of specialized response developed for handling mentally disordered citizens, and officers often consider handling "mentals" as social work that should not be the responsibility of the police (Bittner, 1967).

Policing the homeless

Historically, the police role included providing shelter to homeless persons. During the late 1800s, the Boston Police Department was responsible for lodging homeless, and the Philadelphia police department offered lodging to 100,000 citizens a year (Monkkonen). After 1900, care for the homeless became the responsibility of social service agencies; however, the problem of homelessness still influences the activities of patrol officers. Police routinely handle calls from business owners and residents requesting that homeless persons be removed from the neighborhood. Furthermore, homeless persons are often crime victims.

During the 1970s and 1980s, the homeless population increased significantly. Although reports vary greatly, a median estimate of the number of homeless in the late 1980s was 400,000 (Jencks). It has also been suggested that deinstitutionalization policies have led to larger numbers of mentally ill persons in the community, some of whom inevitably become homeless. In addition to increases in the number of homeless, changes in the character of this population have occurred. Previously, the homeless population was largely male substance abusers and alcoholics. During the 1980s, larger numbers of families, including women and children, were forced into a life on the streets. Changes in the character of the homeless population has been described as the "new homeless problem" (Walker, 1999).

The image of the homeless has changed from "harmless bums" to those committing predatory crimes. For example, the Santa Monica (California) Police Department reported that the homeless accounted for 25 percent of burglary and 19 percent of robbery arrests in 1985; these figures jumped to 53 percent and 49 percent in 1990 (Melekian). Other research has found, however, that homeless men are more likely to be arrested for minor crimes such as public intoxication, shoplifting, and violations of city ordinances, concluding that the depiction of homeless men as serious predatory criminals is faulty (Snow et al.).

Most departments do not have a specialized plan for handling these problems. One survey of police departments in 1991 showed that 40 percent of departments did not keep records regarding contact with the homeless, and 50 percent provide no specialized training to officers dealing with this population (Plotkin and Narr). As a result, police response to the "new homeless problem" varies greatly. For example, in the early 1990s, Los Angeles designated a fifty-square-block area where homeless persons are allowed to sleep on the streets. Community policing officers in Seattle distribute blankets and make referrals to homeless shelters and drug abuse treatment centers (Walker, 1999). In comparison, aggressive order maintenance tactics used in New York City encourage the use of arrest for minor offenses, including vagrancy, loitering, and public intoxication.

Policing crowds

Crowd control is a specialized function of urban police forces. Officers must maintain security during public gatherings that are both planned and unplanned. Planned public gatherings include permitted rallies, protests, demonstrations, vigils, parades, holiday celebrations, and other specialized events. McCarthy and McPhail have noted changes in the nature of public gatherings and police response over the past forty years. During the 1960s, police responded to public gatherings with suspicion and aggressive enforcement. Police often tried to prevent demonstrations and protests. If public gatherings did occur, police tactics often included the use of force and arrest, which escalated disorder and violence.

Over the next three decades, McCarthy and McPhail argue that protest events have become institutionalized, or governed by formal rules and regulations as well as by informal norms. Since the 1980s, public order policing reflects communication and negotiation between police departments and citizens. Most groups file requests and receive permits, allowing them to legally gather in specific areas at specific times. Police departments negotiate with these groups and informally work out what activities and behaviors will be allowed during these gatherings. As described by McCarthy and McPhail, "under negotiated management policing, an 'acceptable level of disruption' is seen by police as an inevitable byproduct of demonstrator efforts to produce social change. Police do not try to prevent demonstrations, but attempt to limit the amount of disruption they cause" (p. 97).

Urban police must control unplanned public gatherings as well. Unplanned public gatherings include events that exist without a permit, along with gatherings resulting from natural disasters and riots. Policing unplanned public gatherings is difficult for police departments. Several examples of public gathering and riot situations occurred during the 1990s, where police were criticized for being unprepared, too lenient, or too aggressive (e.g., the LAPD during the Rodney King riots in 1993; St. Petersburg, Florida, police during race riots in 1996; Seattle Police Department during the World Trade Organization protests in 1999, etc.). Again, the response by police during these and other situations was believed to escalate, rather than control, the situation.

Most large departments provide officers with some form of crowd control or riot training. Much of the training includes documented rules and regulations resulting from crisis management. Police policies are often made as a result of an inadequate response to an immediate crisis and are unsystematic (Manning). Departments' procedural guidelines are often situation-specific or, alternatively, terribly vague. In fact, many departments learn better ways to handle crowd situations through documentation of poorly handled initial situations.

Narcotics enforcement

Samuel Walker has suggested that the drug problem in the United States is both directly and indirectly responsible for "the dramatic rise in the murder rate in the 1980s, gang violence, the soaring prison population, the worsening crisis in race relations, and the steady erosion of individual rights in the Supreme Court" (1998, p. 243). While drug use has declined since the late 1970s, it has significantly increased among members of the underclass. As the political climate changed in the 1980s, a "war on drugs" was declared. Enforcement of drug-related offenses increased dramatically, as did the severity of the sentences for these crimes. Critics of these policies have suggested that "racial minorities are the primary victims of the war on drugs" (1998, p. 249). Although African Americans made up only 12 percent of the U.S. population and 13 percent of monthly drug users in 1993, they accounted for 35 percent of drug arrests and 74 percent of prison sentences for drug convictions (Mauer and Huling).

According to David Bayley, there are six major strategies to control the use of illegal drugs in the United States; however, urban police departments focus primarily on two: suppressing the sale of drugs between suppliers and consumers and educating people about the perils of illegal drug use. Numerous tactics have been used to advance these strategies, although most have not been effective (Walker, 1998). The most common police strategy is a crackdown, where additional manpower and resources are used for aggressive enforcement in targeted areas. Most crackdown efforts reduce crime in the short term; however, they do not have lasting long-term effects. Crackdowns also pose the risk of displacement effects, where criminal activity is simply moved to another location not targeted by police, or replacement effects, where dealers who are arrested are immediately replaced with other dealers. Furthermore, research on the impact of DARE, the best known and most widely used police education tactic, has consistently shown that it does not reduce later drug use (Emmett et al.).

Recent studies of police drug enforcement tactics utilizing the techniques of problem-oriented policing have shown more positive results (Goldstein). Studies of the SMART (Specialized Multi-Agency Response Team) program in Oakland, California, have shown a reduction in drug-related crime without any evidence of displacement effects (Greene). Likewise, an evaluation of the Drug Market Analysis (DMA) program in Jersey City, New Jersey, found strong effects on the number of disorder-related calls for service and little evidence of a displacement effect (Weisburd and Green). Perhaps these types of police strategies are more effective than traditional crackdowns because they "take a more specific approach to crime and disorder" while also targeting "specific problems or places." Weisburd and Green conclude that although their study "does not directly test problem-oriented policing, it provides evidence that tailor-made responses to problems are essential if police are to deal more effectively with crime and crime-related problems" (p. 732).

Gun violence

Gun violence has also become a major concern for police in urban areas. The dramatic rise in the murder rate during the 1980s is generally attributed to changes in the drug market. Furthermore, while the murder rate among offenders over age twenty-five dropped 25 percent between 1990 and 1994, the murder rate among for those age fourteen to seventeen increased 22 percent (Walker). In 1992, the number of handgun crimes increased by about 40 percent compared to the prior five-year period, and handguns were used in about 60 percent of all murders (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1994).

Confiscating illegal guns through aggressive enforcement was attempted in Kansas City with some positive results. Using methods of directed patrol, an alternative to random patrol where officers are given specific directions to follow regarding enforcement of particular types of persons or crimes, officers focused on confiscating weapons in hot spot areas. The Kansas City Gun Experiment first identified hot spots through computer analyses of calls for service and arrest statistics (Sherman and Rogan). For twenty-nine weeks, four officers focused exclusively on gun detection in the target areas, while other officers were told to focus on this activity when not responding to calls for service. Gun detection was conducted by making traffic and pedestrian stops. During this period, there was a 65 percent increase in gun seizures. In addition, Sherman and Rogan reported a 49 percent decrease in gun-related crime with little or no observable displacement. Citizens in the target areas reported being less fearful and more satisfied with police. Once the experiment ended, however, gun-related crime returned to previous levels. Again, many of the police crackdown techniques showed similar resultseffects in the short-term but not in the long-term (Sherman).

Minor offenses and incivilities

In the 1990s, citizens, politicians, and police administrators began to focus their attention on minor offenses and quality-of-life issues. In a seminal article, James Q. Wilson and George Kelling proposed the broken windows thesis. They argued that a broken window symbolizes a lack of care about a property, making it ripe for criminal activity. Wilson and Kelling stressed the importance of controlling minor crimes and disorders in an effort to curb more serious crime. They argue that making citizens feel safer and improving their quality of life should be the goal of police. Research has documented the spiraling decline of neighborhoods, where fearful citizens retreat into their homes, community ties break down, disorder increases, and more serious forms of crime develop (Skogan). In many departments across the country, minor disorders and incivilities have become the focus of aggressive law enforcement tactics.

Often referred to as zero-tolerance policies, departments are using tactics of aggressive enforcement of minor crimes to clean up the streets and make citizens feel safer. There are two distinct but related concepts underlying zero-tolerance policies. First, these policies send a clear message to citizens that illegal conduct will not be tolerated. Second, proponents argue that by focusing on minor crimes, more serious crimes will decrease. For example, people arrested for minor crimes might be carrying an illegal weapon or be wanted on arrest warrants for other crimes. The highest profile example of the use of this policing strategy is in New York City's police department. The NYPD adopted the zero-tolerance policy in 1993 after abandoning CPOP (Community Patrol Officer Program), a community policing strategy. Officers began making arrests and issuing citations for such minor crimes as fare beating (jumping the turnstiles in subways), urinating in public, jaywalking, and loitering. In addition, police and media attention focused on "squeegee" people (people who clean car windows at intersections for money).

Kelling and Coles argue that tougher enforcement of these minor crimes contributed to a higher quality of life for residents and visitors in New York, along with a lower crime rate for more serious crimes. The crime rate in New York dropped significantly during the 1990s. The murder rate in 1997 was the lowest it had been in thirty years. Similar trends in the lowering of the crime rate, however, are being experienced by other cities not using zero-tolerance policies. Therefore, it is unclear whether zero-tolerance policies are the actual stimulus behind the decline in crime rates.

Domestic violence

A 1985 national survey indicated that 11.3 percent of wives experience some form of domestic violence, while 3 percent experience severe violence. This same study showed that 4.4 percent of husbands surveyed also experienced severe violence at the hands of their spouse (Gelles and Straus). Indeed, there is accumulating evidence that males and females experience similar rates of domestic violence (Straus).

However, it is also clear that police calls for service overwhelmingly represent situations with women victims. Brookoff (1997) found that 78 percent of police calls for service regarding domestic disputes involved female victims. A larger proportion of incidents involving female injury and a male's reluctance to admit that he was assaulted may explain this disproportionate level of calls for service (Straus). Research has also found that domestic violence calls for service are concentrated in particular areas. For example, Sherman, Gartin, and Buerger reported that the majority of calls for domestic disturbances occurred in only 9 percent of the total number of street addresses in Minneapolis. Lower-income female victims are more likely to call the police, compared to middle and upper class women who use private sources of help. Therefore, although officers policing rural and suburban areas also handle calls for domestic violence, officers in urban areas handle these types of situations on a routine basis.

Prior to the mid-1980s, officers had much discretion in handling domestic dispute incidents. In the early 1980s, researchers conducted the Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment. When responding to calls for service for misdemeanor domestic violence, officers were told to randomly assign one of three treatments: arrest, separation, or mediation. The researchers reported that offenders who were arrested were significantly less likely to have repeated incidents of violence compared to suspects who separated or mediated (Sherman and Berk). Mandatory arrest policies were adopted by departments across the country as a result of this study, the influence of feminist groups calling for law enforcement in domestic violence situations, and several successful lawsuits against departments by victims of domestic violence. Mandatory arrest policies are one of the first attempts to control police officer discretion through the use of administrative rulemaking. A survey of large departments in 1993 reported that 95 percent had written policies guiding police discretion in domestic dispute situations. Furthermore, 53 percent of the departments surveyed had a specialized domestic violence unit (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1995; Walker, 1999).

The Minneapolis Domestic Violence Experiment has been heavily criticized (Lempert), and follow-up studies have not produced the same results. More recent research suggests that the employment status of the offender is important to consider when determining the successful use of arrest. Unemployed offenders who are arrested are more likely to commit future violence, while employed offenders are less likely (Sherman et al., 1992). It appears that the effects of arrest are situation-specific. Officers, however, are not likely to be able to predict the future violence of those suspects they encounter. They must decide what course of action to take based on the specifics of the situation itself. Police officers are more likely to arrest when there is evidence of an injury, evidence of drug or alcohol use, the suspect is disrespectful, or the victim requests an arrest (Worden and Pollitz).


Urban policing represents a challenge to police departments. For the most part, the majority of crimes are located in a few concentrated areas within inner cities. This entry has presented a number of different types of citizens and situations that urban police encounter on a routine basis. For each of these groups of citizens or situations, the historical and current role of police has been described, along with the tactics and strategies guiding police discretion. Over time, policies have been enacted to meet the challenges of urban policing. Some have been more effective than others, however few have been clear successes. Perhaps as additional research is focused on these areas, police organizations will develop policies to more effectively meet the challenges of policing urban areas.

Robin Shepard Engel

See also Federal Bureau of Investigation: History; Police: History; Police: Community Policing; Police: Criminal Investigations; Police: Handling of Juveniles; Police: Organization and Management; Police: Police Officer Behavior; Policing Complainantless Crimes; Police: Private Police and Industrial Security; Police: Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Teams; Scientific Evidence; Urban Crime; Vagrancy and Disorderly Conduct.


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City of Chicago v. Morales.

Tennessee v. Garner, 105 S. Ct. 1694 (1985).

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ENGEL, ROBIN SHEPARD. "Urban Police." Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. 24 May. 2016 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

ENGEL, ROBIN SHEPARD. "Urban Police." Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice. 2002. Encyclopedia.com. (May 24, 2016). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403000266.html

ENGEL, ROBIN SHEPARD. "Urban Police." Encyclopedia of Crime and Justice. 2002. Retrieved May 24, 2016 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3403000266.html