Perspectives on policing


Policing: An International Journal

ISSN: 1363-951X

Article publication date: 1 July 2006


Dai, M. and Ryu, J. (2006), "Perspectives on policing", Policing: An International Journal, Vol. 29 No. 3.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2006, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Perspectives on policing

Race, drugs, and policing: understanding disparities in drug delivery arrests

Beckett, Katherine, Kris Nyrop, and Lori Pfingst Criminology, Vol. 44 No. 1, 2006pp. 105-38

In their study of disparities in drug delivery arrests in Seattle, Beckett et al. (2006) compared the racial and ethnic composition of those who delivered any of five serious drugs (including heroin, powder cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy) with the racial and ethnic composition of those arrested for this offense. They also explored three organizational practices leading to racial disparity in these arrests. They argued that race shaped perception of Seattle's drug problem and the organizational response to that problem.

To identify the racial and ethnic composition of those who distributed drugs, Beckett et al. (2006) used data from the Seattle needle exchange survey and ethnographic observations. These data provided information about those at the bottom of the drug distribution system, that is, low-level deliverers who had contact with the customer. The Seattle needle exchange survey was conducted in April 2002. In total, 589 surveys were completed which provided information about 911 drug transactions of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, crack, or ecstasy. Beckett et al. found that the vast majority (about 96 percent) of respondents reported acquiring heroin, cocaine, and/or methamphetamine, and that whites were the largest group of heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and ecstasy deliverers. Only in the case of crack cocaine did the majority of transactions involve a black drug deliverer. Additional information about participants in outdoor drug markets was provided by ethnographic observations of two open-air drug markets within Seattle. In the predominantly white Capitol Hill area, Beckett et al. observed roughly 2.6 deliveries per hour, compared with 11.5 per hour in downtown Seattle. They also found that only 4 percent of drug transactions observed in the Capitol Hill drug market involved a black drug deliverer.

Information of the racial and ethnic composition of persons arrested for drug delivery in Seattle is based on Seattle Police Department (SPD) incident reports. The percent of white arrestees who were Latino was estimated with Hispanic surname analysis. Beckett et al. (2006) found that from January 1999 to April 2001, the SPD made 2,786 arrests for the delivery of the five serious drugs, among which 2,018 arrests were made for crack delivery. When comparing the results of the needle exchange data regarding Seattle's drug deliverers and the SPD arrest records, Beckett et al. found that the over-representation of blacks among heroin and crack delivery arrestees and the under-representation of whites among heroin and crack delivery arrestees were statistically significant. Comparisons of the racial composition of drug delivery arrestees and the ethnographic observations of drug transactions also indicated that black drug deliverers were overrepresented among those arrested in both racially diverse and predominately white outdoor settings. Beckett et al. also noted that blacks were the majority of those arrested both outdoors (66.2 percent) and indoors (51.9 percent).

Beckett et al. (2006) identified three organizational practices that contributed to racial disparity in drug delivery arrests in Seattle. They argued that the focus on crack offenders and the concentration of police resources in the downtown area were the most significant causes of racial disparity in Seattle's drug delivery arrests. The focus on outdoor drug activity also exacerbated racial disparities in drug delivery arrests. Beckett et al. further explored various race-neutral explanations for each organizational practice and argued that none of the practices could be explained in race-neutral terms. For example, the focus on the downtown area could not be explained by such factors as the geographic distribution of crime and resident complaints. In addition, the focus on crack offenders could not be explained by violence associated with the crack trade or the frequency of crack exchanges relative to other serious drugs (Beckett et al., 2006). Beckett et al. concluded that each of these three organizational practices reflected implicit racial bias.

Racial threat, concentrated disadvantage and social control: considering the macro-level sources of variation in arrests

Parker, Karen F., Brian J. Stults and Stephen K. Rice Criminology, Vol. 43 No.4, 2005pp. 1111-34

Although the past three decades have accumulated much theoretical and empirical research focusing on the racial threat hypothesis, evidence of this hypothesis has been mixed. Using a sample of large US cities in 2000, Parker et al. (2005) examined the relationship between racial threat and black arrests. Beyond previous research, they improved upon the racial threat perspective in three important ways.

First, Parker et al. (2005) advanced the conceptual clarity of this perspective by examining multiple measures of economic competition. Specifically, they used three indicators to measure economic competition: black composition, black immigration and racial inequality. Second, when investigating the relationship between economic competition and black arrest levels, they used black political mobilization as a potential rival factor. Third, they extended the literature by testing for links between segregation and concentrated disadvantage among blacks and the use of social control against blacks.

Using the 2000 census data and arrest data, Packer et al. (2005) found, consistent with the “benign-neglect” hypothesis, that increases in black percentage and black immigration reduced arrest rates for blacks. In terms of concentrated disadvantage measures, Parker et al. found that economic disadvantage affected both black and white arrest rates. This finding reveals that the poor are more likely to be arrested, and they are also are more likely to be seen as a threat to social control. However, the influence of economic disadvantage on arrest rates differs for blacks and whites. Residential segregation, another indicator of concentrated disadvantage, did not have an effect on arrest rates.

Parker et al. (2005) propose that future research should carefully consider the potential complexity of a racial threat perspective and that it is important to examine the influence of urban disadvantage on different criminal justice outcomes or specific types of arrests. Finally, future racial threat research should incorporate the growing Asian and Hispanic populations for a more comprehensive and racially diverse model.

The organizational determinants of police arrest decisions

Chappell, Allison T., John M. MacDonald and Patrick W. Manz Crime and Delinquency, Vol. 52 No. 2, 2006pp. 287-306

Chappell and her colleagues note that few studies have empirically examined the influence of organizational context on police arrest decisions. Using the LEMAS survey and the 1997 UCR, they explore the influence of organizational characteristics on arrest rates per officer for all index offenses and violent offenses.

Chappell et al. (2006) focus on various characteristics of police organization. Specifically, they revisit Wilson's (1968) three police styles: watchman style, legalistic style and service style and examine the influence of organizational characteristics associated with these styles on arrest rates. Chappell et al. predict agencies that place a greater emphasis on professionalism and specialization, and have more administrative personnel, will be more legalistic and have higher rates of arrest for both total and violent crime. In contrast, agencies that have more community oriented policing (COP) and problem oriented policing (POP) officers, more diversity, and more sworn officers compared to administrative personnel should have lower rates of arrest per officers because these departments reflect the idea of service style agencies. Finally, they predict that agencies that place an emphasis on political patronage, have a police union, and recruited from their own communities will have lower rates of arrest per officers because they represent watchman style agencies. Further, research should also consider three control variables, such as crime rates in community, the presence of minorities and police strength.

In their multivariate model for all criminal offenses, Chappell et al. (2006) find that there are few relationships between organizational aspects of agencies and the use of arrest powers. Inconsistent with their predictions, college education and the application of COP and POP strategies are not significantly related to arrests. Similarly with violent offenses, they also find few and inconsistent relationships between variations in organizational characteristics and arrest rates. Moreover, inconsistent with their predictions, they find that the activities of COP and POP and police union are related to increased violent arrests per officers.

Chappell et al. (2006) conclude that organizational level variables have only a limited effect on officers' arrest patterns, and that these organizational changes may be less than critical to changing policing practices. They suggest that the policing literature and principle knowledge on controlling police discretion may put too much emphasis on the influence of organizational framework. They also suggest that more focus needs to be placed on other aspects of the police environment.

Mengyan Dai and Junhyuk RyuUniversity of Cincinnati