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Helping Hand of the Law: Police Control of Citizens on Request

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 38 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2000 Pages: 307-342
Date Published
May 2000
36 pages

This study examines how patrol officers respond to citizens’ requests to control other citizens.


Citizens requested that the police control other citizens by advising or persuading them, warning or threatening them, making them leave someone alone or leave the scene or arresting them. Officers granted the request for the most restrictive form of control in 70 percent of 396 observed cases. Factors modeled to determine their influence on officers’ decisions to grant or deny the most restrictive request included: legal considerations, need, factors that attenuate the impact of law or need, the social relationship between the requester and target of control, and personal characteristics of the officer. The most influential factors were legal considerations. When citizens requested an arrest, the likelihood of police response dropped considerably. However, as the evidence of a legal violation against the targeted citizen increased, so did the odds of an arrest. Officers were less likely to grant the requests of citizens having a close relationship with the person targeted for control, disrespectful of the police, intoxicated, or mentally ill. Race, wealth and organization affiliation of citizen adversaries had little impact on police decisions. Male officers, officers with fewer years of experience, and officers with a stronger proclivity for community policing were significantly more likely to grant citizens what they requested. Figure, tables, notes, references

Date Published: May 1, 2000