This study of the Richmond Police Department (Virginia) provides some insight into patterns of discretion in the use of arrest in the context of a community policing strategy.
Researchers accompanied officers on their beats to observe their encounters with suspects, including which suspects were arrested and which were not; researchers also noted characteristics of the circumstances and citizens that might influence officers' decisions. The findings show that in Richmond, arrest was relatively rare for suspects routinely encountered by patrol officers. Only 1 in 10 suspects was subjected to warrantless arrest. The pattern of arrests for the entire sample of observed officers showed that legal, not extralegal, considerations most influenced officers' decisions. Officers with positive attitudes about community policing were much less likely than those with a negative perspective to arrest the suspects they encountered. Positive officers were also less likely to be influenced by legal considerations, but extralegal factors had no more influence on them than on negative officers. Thus, concern that officers' adoption of a community policing perspective would produce extralegal discrimination in arrests was not supported in this study. This paper concludes with a discussion of the replication of this research.
Date Published: July 1, 1996