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Crime and Policing in Rural and Small-Town America: An Overview of the Issues

NCJ Number
Date Published
September 1995
113 pages
Publication Series
This report examines what is known about crime and policing in rural areas and small towns and how they are shaped by the rural environment.
Information presented in this report is drawn from a larger study of rural and small-town crime and policing. The study involved collecting and reviewing relevant literature, conducting focus groups with rural sheriffs and municipal police, locating and cataloging data sets relevant to rural crime, and interviewing officials familiar with rural crime and rural policing. The purpose of this report is not to reach firm conclusions but to stimulate thinking and suggest patterns that merit further study. A discussion of the nature of a "rural" area does not develop a single definition; rather, it advises that studies should select a definition that makes intuitive sense, is relatively easy to use, and allows for comparisons with other research. This particular research encompassed a wide range of definitions of "rural" in selecting rural sheriffs and police chiefs to interview. A section on the rural setting of crime and justice addresses geographic isolation, the availability of guns, economic factors, race and ethnicity, and social climate. A discussion of the latter issue focuses on informal control, mistrust of government, and reluctance to share internal problems. A section on rural and small-town crime considers the fear of crime, rural compared to urban crime, trends in rural crime, and special issues. Special issues include gangs, alcohol and drugs, vice and organized crime, violence, hate crimes, arson, agricultural crimes, wildlife crimes, and emerging issues. Among the issues discussed in a consideration of rural and small- town police are departmental size, the effectiveness of rural police, policing styles, community policing, and violence and rural police. An overview of other parts of the rural criminal justice system considers the practice of law, rural courts, rural jails, and prisons. The report concludes with a review of policy and research issues. 235 references

Date Published: September 1, 1995