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Social Ecology of Police Misconduct

NCJ Number
Criminology Volume: 40 Issue: 4 Dated: November 2002 Pages: 867-896
Date Published
November 2002
30 pages
This study examined whether variation in social ecological conditions in New York City police precincts and divisions predicted patterns of police misconduct from 1975 to 1996.
This study hypothesized that structural disadvantage will increase police misconduct across and within territorial areas; that population mobility will increase police misconduct across and within territorial areas; and that increases in minority representation will increase police misconduct across and within territorial areas. The study used a retrospective longitudinal research design that included the years 1975 through 1996. The two spatial units of analysis were the New York City police precinct and division. Police precincts represented local patrol areas (n=75) for uniformed police officers, who were assigned to and worked exclusively within these areas. Through the use of police records, every police territorial unit was assigned a police misconduct count for each year under study. The 75 police precincts were assigned a misconduct count for each year, yielding 1,650 observations. This procedure was replicated at the division level for all 20 divisions, producing 440 observations. For police behavior to be considered misconduct, the officers must have used their employment status to engage in job-specific malpractice. In addition to police records, information about community structure was obtained from the U.S. Census for the years 1970, 1980, and 1990. Data on the structural characteristics of census tracts, aggregated to the precinct and division levels, were included as the ecological indicators. Using a longitudinal framework, the analyses found that dimensions of structural disadvantage and population mobility -- derived from the social-disorganization literature -- as well as changes in Latino population -- drawn from the racial conflict perspective -- explained changes in police misconduct over time. In addition, most of the variations occurred within, as opposed to between, precincts and divisions over time, strengthening the case for a longitudinal examination. 6 tables and 60 references

Date Published: November 1, 2002