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Revisiting the Decision to Arrest: Comparing Beat and Community Officers

NCJ Number
Crime and Delinquency Volume: 48 Issue: 1 Dated: January 2002 Pages: 70-98
Kenneth J. Novak; James Frank; Brad W. Smith; Robin Shepard Engel
Date Published
January 2002
29 pages

This study examined the influence of situational and community factors on the arrest decisions of police officers in an agency that had implemented community policing.


The study extended previous research on the correlates of police officers’ decisions to arrest. The study used data collected through systematic social observations of the police in Cincinnati, OH, during 442 shifts between April 1997 and April 1998, as well as census data, to examine the direct effects of assignment on the decision to arrest. The research also explored whether conventional arrest predictors varied between community and beat officers and, if so, the extent and nature of the variance. Findings generally suggested that the type of assignment had no significant direct influence on arrest decisions. In addition, citizen failure to comply with officer directives made an arrest more likely, regardless of officer assignment. However, factors that influenced the decision to arrest appeared to differ between community policing and beat officers. Strength of evidence, gender, race, intoxication, demeanor, interaction-phase crime, and whether the officer attempted order maintenance all significantly related to arrest for beat officer encounters. In contrast, citizen age and interaction-phase crime were only related to community police officer decisions to arrest. The data also revealed that beat officers were significantly more likely to arrest citizens when they did not first attempt to do order maintenance during the encounter. Findings indicated that the impact of community policing on decision-making processes is complex, may vary by police department, and needs further study before researchers and policymakers can claim to understand community policing at the street level. Tables, notes, and 81 references (Author abstract modified)